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Sex slaves find hope; Craigslist introduces measures to crack down on human trafficking -- but only in America
Description: Her body didn't look a day over her age -- 14. The stretched scraps of clothing covered just enough skin and men wanted to buy her -- upwards of $200 an hour for this one.
Date: 09 November 2008
Author: Tamara Cherry
Source: The Toronto Sun

Her body didn't look a day over her age -- 14.

The stretched scraps of clothing covered just enough skin and men wanted to buy her -- upwards of $200 an hour for this one.

A girl three years older had taken the picture and posted it on Craigslist, a San Francisco-based website for free classified ads.

What the dozen men a day who visited the teens in motel rooms west of Toronto weren't told in the salacious ads was that the girl in the picture, and the girl behind the camera, were working under the wrath of their pimp-turned-slave trader.

Now nearly a year after the older girl escaped her confinement and went to police with her story -- prompting the younger girl's rescue and the first human trafficking conviction in Canadian history -- Craigslist has announced new measures to crack down on human trafficking.

But only south of the border.

"My hope is as the agencies become more robust in Canada, it will make more sense for us to embark upon that collaboration," Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said from New York.

He was referring to the relationship he has developed with attorneys general across the U.S. and the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. They were behind the recent announcement that those posting in the erotic services section on the U.S.

Craigslist sites would have to pay a $5 fee with a credit card.

Like the phone number verification system set up by the website in March, this is another step to not only validate businesses that use Craigslist, but make it easier for police to track the postings back to the users, should they be subject of human trafficking investigations.

But neither of these regulations apply to any of the nearly 50 Canadian Craigslist sites. And the need for them is pressing, said human trafficking expert Benjamin Perrin, an assistant professor of law at the University of British Columbia.

"We have documented cases, convictions in court where Craigslist was used to sell Canadian girls," Perrin said. "The fact that there are no safeguards in place in Canada is very troubling."

Buckmaster admitted his company doesn't need the help of Canadian agencies to implement the phone and credit card regulations here, but said thus far, authorities in Canada haven't reached out to Craigslist to do so.

"That's a real shame," said Perrin. "We're talking about protecting not just foreign nationals who are in the sex trade, but Canadian women, girls and boys."

While the RCMP has cybertip.ca, where Internet users can report instances of online sexual exploitation, Perrin said there is a growing problem around online bulletin boards being used to advertise trafficking victims.

"It does not begin and end with Craigslist, but certainly this is an area where measures are being put in place in the United States to protect individuals from being sexually exploited through Craigslist. Absolutely those measures need to be adapted here in Canada," he said. "We're kind of late to the game here. There needs to be a lot more work done."

Because the Internet is "a relatively unregulated industry," responsibility weighs on the shoulders of companies like Craigslist to ensure children aren't being exploited, said Staff-Sgt. Rick Greenwood, of the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre.

"It comes down to the value and integrity of that particular organization," Greenwood said. "If they want to supply a service where a child is potentially at risk, exposed, that's an organizational issue."

 
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