Saturday, May 15, 2021

NetGalley ARC | Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World's Largest Sex Trafficker

I received a free digital copy from NYU Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐

After reading this one, I have been seriously pondering going to law school. I want to do the work the Krell is doing, to take down the monsters who profit from the trauma and assault of others. It is absolutely disgusting and I would gladly hunt down every last one and bring them to justice.

Unfortunately, as illustrated in this book, it is all too easy for said monsters to continue profiting from sex trafficking in the digital age.

Prior to this book, I do not recall ever hearing about Backpage except in a few other books I have read that cover the subjects of commercial sex workers who used the site and Craig's List to find clients. Perhaps I have simply been existing in my own little bubble, though I am not sure how I have missed such an incredibly important subject, but I am so glad to have read this book.

As it turns out, was at one time the world's largest sex trafficker. Untold numbers of victims were bought and sold on the site for ten years, forced into dangerous and violent situations where they were raped, sometimes multiple times, sometimes by multiple people. While we often think of young women and girls as the most common victims, it is important to note that transgender youth, and younger boys were bought and sold as well. Repeatedly. The site's reach was world-wide and operated in 800 cities internationally. The owners of the site could feign ignorance of what was happening, because they claimed to not be responsible for the content that others created to post on their site. Luckily some sleuthing found that the employees of Backpage were, in fact, creating content from the ads posted to Backpage. The content they created was posted to their shell sites in order to drive more business to Backpage.

I suppose if you are a disgusting excuse for a human being, it would be easy to sleep at night claiming this ignorance as you grew richer and richer by the day.

Enter Maggy Krell, and your days as such are numbered.

I could not put this book down. I became so invested in the stories of the young women and girls who had been trafficked at various times, and worried so much for them as they worked through their trauma and had to decide whether or not they could relieve it all again at trial. My heart broke for those, especially the girls as young as 12, who Krell was never able to find, despite the fact that their photos were still being used in ads on the website.

Krell writes like an attorney because that is who she is, yet the narrative was not bogged down by legal terms and boring procedure. In fact, the procedures were anything but boring, because I wanted to know what would happen and how the owners of Backpage, as well as the stree-level pimps, would finally face their day of reckoning. I had to stop myself from Googling the owners' names so many times just to know what would happen.

One aspect of the case that I found interesting is the fact that for so long, the FBI knew exactly what was happening. Ads would be found on the site for girls and boys under 18 and the FBI would request those ads be removed. Backpage was all too eager to assist in this way, to try and show how cooperative they were. What a fucking joke.

I found fascinating the legal workings of such a massive case like this, and one so delicate. The amount of coordination that had to occur among various agencies in different states is staggering and that it all went off without a hitch was something I honestly was not sure would happen.

I appreciate the fact that Krell does not shy away from any of the horror and trauma inflicted on those who were trafficked multiple times per day. I think we all agree that human trafficker in general and sex trafficking in particular are heinous crimes that we must put an end to. However, when it does not directly impact your life, the way to help can seem rather abstract. Personally for Eleanor and I, we live practically smack-dab in the middle of the US, at the convergence of two major interstates that run across the country. We are a major hub for human-trafficking and it is especially bad during the College World Series each year. I do not take Eleanor anywhere near downtown for those couple of weeks specifically for this reason. There have been so many arrests in recent years and that gives me hope that this is something we can defeat, but the realist in me knows that it is simply not possible.

Shutting down Backpage was a massive moment in this fight, but it is certainly not the only one. Sex traffickers have simply moved elsewhere online and we must continue to pursue them as Krell and her team did in order to bring the perps to justice and help victims and survivor get out and start to heal.

Highly highly highly recommended.


  1. That's fascinating. I had never heard of Backpage. Obviously, my bubble just didn't extend that far. It's encouraging to hear about people like Krell who make a career of fighting such evils. There are some terrible people in this world, but there are also some very good people.

    1. The book does not come out until next year but you can still get it on NetGalley I think. I just got it not that long ago.

  2. What a disgusting topic. I love spreading awareness but sometimes you wish things like this just didn't exist in the first place.

    1. Unfortunately they do and books like this show what we can do to tackle these problems if people are willing to put in the work.


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