Senator Claire McCaskill is the senior United States Senator from Missouri. For more information on our Opinion Section and why we post these communications from your elected representatives please click here.
Imagine discovering a photo of your missing son or daughter on Backpage, a website known for selling sex. Imagine the cold fear of realizing your child has been trafficked and likely sold for sex. And then imagine that the website facilitating the sale of your underage child isn’t going to do a single thing about it.
That’s exactly the terror that Kubiiki Pride and her family lived through, and as a mother, I can’t even fathom her pain.
Last month, Kubiiki travelled to Washington and testified before the Senate about what it was like to be the mother of a trafficked child. What it was like to approach Backpage about removing the ad selling her 14-year-old daughter and being told they wouldn’t unless she could somehow prove that the underage girl in the pictures was hers. What it was like to “buy time” with her daughter in a desperate attempt to save her.
Kubiiki’s testimony was so brave, and it was part of an historic victory against child sex trafficking.
For years, my Republican colleague, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, and I had been pressing Backpage for proof that they weren’t facilitating the sale of children. Asking for documents that could show they were taking appropriate steps to prevent this tragedy, that they weren’t complicit in these crimes.
- They ignored our legal subpoena.
- They ignored the order of a federal judge,
- Before finally… finally, having to turn over those documents after we fought them all the way to the Supreme Court.
Let me tell you, it was very clear why they didn’t want us to get our hands on those documents.
We saw a conversation over email discussing how many child exploitation reports Backpage could afford reporting each day to make sure its monthly totals weren’t too high. We reviewed documents exposing an automatic filter that would remove “problematic” words from posts—words like Lolita, teen, amber alert—before posting the ad anyway. And we learned that Backpage employees at all levels—from moderators to the company’s own CEO—were acutely aware of the illegal activity happening on the site.
This case shows why oversight is SO important. These bipartisan investigations have been my bread and butter since before arriving in the Senate because they have the power to force change, and alter laws and policy. I’m incredibly proud of the report Senator Portman and I released because I’m confident that the information we uncovered will help people around the country and in our very own communities… people just like Kubiiki.
Her fight, and the fight of parents across the country, can be seen in the new documentary, I Am Jane Doe. The film tracks the legal battle against Backpage from courtrooms in St. Louis, Seattle, and Boston, all the way to my hearing room in Washington and the Supreme Court.