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Giannini: Shut Backpage.com Down

Monday, April 06, 2015


What a week this has been. Providence has had two murders within 2 days and a major prostitution sting. One of the murders, a young twenty four year old mother, Ashley Masi, took place around the corner from me on River avenue in the Mt. pleasant section of Providence. She was found dead in her third floor apartment the same day she advertised on backpage.com as an escort. She leaves three children, six year old twin daughters and an infant daughter.

I wish I could say I was shocked, but I am not. The violence around us has been all too common these days. I love my neighborhood. I  walked door to door campaigning in my neighborhood when I  was a legislator and I always felt safe. I must admit I am apprehensive to walk around my neighborhood now. There I said it. There will be some who will say, "don't say that about  our neighborhood, it is a great neighborhood."  And I say, yes it is and that's why I am concerned. Anyone can innocently be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be a victim of a  senseless crime.

I am glad to see Mayor Elorza speaking out against the act of sex trafficking and that  Providence police are conducting stings to catch the perpetrators. "Operation  backpage" has resulted in 22 arrests of mostly local "johns" who were involved in the buying of sexual services from woman.  Undercover woman  police officers advertised on backpage.com and  posed as solicitors of sex and used local hotels to meet all alleged buyers. This sting was set up to stop what I know has existed a very long time here, sex trafficking. I can't help but think of the many times I spoke out about this and no one believed.

My frustration is that this is not a new practice.  I started introducing legislation on human trafficking and prostitution in 2006 and many did not believe. Closing the loophole in prostitution indoors took years.  Many woman groups were against the bill because they said I was hurting woman. Now I see some of those very same women, who opposed my bills when I sponsored them,  on television speaking out against the practices I've talked about for years.  It's too bad it took years for them  to believe. My heart aches for the thousands of victims, mostly children under  eighteen years old, who could have or should've been saved throughout the years but couldn't because no one believed. Do you believe me now?

Providence police held a press conference outlining the details of the  "Operation backpage" sting.  Mayor Jorge Elorza spoke out against sex trafficking here in Providence and said they are looking for ways  to hold the website "backpage.com" accountable. I say it's simple, " Shut them down".

Woman and young girls are being advertised on this website to advertise for " escort services" which really are  services of Sex trafficking and prostitution. This has proven to be deadly as we have already seen in the murder this week of Ashley Masi.  Police Chief Hugh Clements commented about the female victims  "They aren't necessarily women. Many, many are kids."

Yes, many are children, runaways who have nowhere to go and fall prey to pimps and madams who came to Providence mostly because for years indoor prostitution was legal due to  a loophole in the law. Even though we passed a law in 2009 banning indoor prostitution, these perpetrators have gotten used to believing our neighborhoods are safe havens for sex trafficking and prostitution. Old habits die hard. It will not be easy to stop the disgusting practices that have been going on for years. But shutting down websites such as "backpage.com" are a start.

These websites have to be held accountable for the activities they generate by letting these advertisements exist. It's interesting, this state has a law called the "social host law" which holds parents and hosts accountable for allowing underage  drinking on their premises, but we cannot hold the websites that advertise  sex services which end in murder accountable. That makes no sense to me. It time to take control of the sex industry which has gotten way out of control.

It's time to focus on the perpetrators who promote sex trafficking in our community by allowing it to exist. Golocalprov posted the names and pictures of the " johns"  in their article and rightfully so.  Many may not like the idea of the "johns" being advertised for buying their  " services"   but women who were involved in prostitution have had their names printed for years. Why should the johns be treated differently?

In neighboring Seekonk, we see the many arrests at Motel 6 which are under investigation for prostitution, sex trafficking  and other crimes at that establishment.  How many incidents can one hotel have before it is penalized?  Maybe it's time they " shut their lights off", instead of  allegedly being a beacon for the exploitation of young woman.

Finally, I don't have all the answers to the human trafficking and sex trafficking problem, but I can tell you this.  It will continue to get worse if ignored.  

Parents need to be vigilant of the websites and friends their children associate themselves with.

The Internet is a dangerous place and we as a society have no control over its destructiveness.

The only recourse is to shut down the websites and establishments who are a beacon for sex trafficking, rape, murder and drugs.

We no longer need them to " leave their lights on."

Joanne Giannini, was a Providence Democratic State Representative from 1994 to 2010 And the prime sponsor of the bans on human trafficking and indoor prostitution in Rhode Island.


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