A survivor of human trafficking from Texas has sued Facebook, alleging that the social media platform gave traffickers an unrestricted way to “stalk, exploit, recruit, groom…and extort children into the sex trade.”
The woman, identified as “Jane Doe,” also names Backpage.com and the owners of two Houston hotels in the lawsuit. She is seeking $1 million in damages.
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She says she was just 15 years old when she was targeted by a sex trafficker on Facebook and later sexually assaulted.
The AP reports:
According to the lawsuit, Facebook should be held liable for the conduct of sex traffickers because the social media site has become the “first point of contact between sex traffickers and these children. Facebook not only provides an unrestricted platform for these sex traffickers to target children, but it also cloaks the traffickers with credibility.”
Annie McAdams, an attorney for the woman who filed the suit, said her client was befriended by another Facebook user who gained her trust and promised her a job as a model.
But, McAdams said, the other person forced her into sex trafficking within hours of meeting her. She was raped and beaten by people who had paid the trafficker, the attorney said.
McAdams alleged Facebook has not done enough to ensure that users aren’t able to hide their identities from unsuspecting minors who may be targets of traffickers or to warn minors of the dangers posed by traffickers and how they can operate online.
“It was not just because a pimp did something that Jane Doe was trafficked. That pimp is not able to traffic Jane Doe unless Facebook allowed him access to her,” McAdams said.
Still, some observers believe that her case will be difficult to prove.
Tony Talbott, director of Abolition Ohio, a University of Dayton group that works to combat human trafficking, pointed out that “Facebook has the technology to be able to potentially develop algorithms to look for the indicators and the red flags of potential (trafficking) exploitation and abuse.”
Furthermore, Talbott said that it will be hard to show that Facebook knowingly facilitated sex trafficking; the company could argue that traffickers simply exploited the social media platform.
On Thursday, Facebook responded to the lawsuit.
“Human trafficking is abhorrent and is not allowed on Facebook. We use technology to thwart this kind of abuse and we encourage people to use the reporting links found across our site so that our team of experts can review the content swiftly,” a company spokeswoman said.
“Facebook also works closely with anti-trafficking organisations and other technology companies, and we report all apparent instances of child sexual exploitation to NCMEC (the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).”
Attorneys for Backpage.com have yet to respond to requests for comment.