Two Ways the Village Voice Could Track Trafficking on Backpage (If They Cared)

Human traffickingWhat did the Village Voice do? Here’s the original article and my breakdown of the issues. What follows are two ways the Village Voice could get a good guess at how many people are being sold into sex without consent through their website. One is internal-only, and the other has results which could be shared broadly.

Gender-matching approach with credit-card data.

(For internal Village Voice use only, because of privacy issues)

Since Backpage, and therefore the Village Voice, has the emails and the credit card info of everyone who has ever posted an ad in its Adult section, they could write a quick program that compared the names of the women advertised with the names on the credit cards used to pay for the ad.

With a little more work, they could eliminate false-positives. E.G. because my name is long, I often appear in databases at Jessica Goodman or Jessica Dickinson rather than Jessica Dickinson Goodman. Now, the problem of stage names. This is a significant barrier to determining if the person being advertised is the same as the person with the credit card. But not a barrier to predicting trafficking situations.

Using the stereotype that many traffickers are male, they could create a database of typical male and female names using baby name sites. There will, of course, be false positives here as well. Then they could determine the percentage of posts on their website where a man posted that a woman was available for sex.

We now have two groups: one where a man posted an ad for a woman and one where a woman posted an ad for a woman. There are lots of places to go from here, to try and narrow down how many ads are for victims of sex trafficking.

  • Search for coded terms used by traffickers to indicate that their victims are minors like “New in town,” “adorable,” sweet,” or “young.”
  • For posters who have used the same credit card/email for years, compare the ages they give at different times for different women. Is “Candy” always 18?
  • Do male posters report an average age higher or lower than the overall average age?
  • Does the same credit card pay for the ads of the same 6 women?
  • Do the ads’ location indicate that the poster is moving along an established trafficking “track” (LA to San Francisco to Portland to Seattle to Las Vegas to LA)?

Sneaky Survey

Prevent Human Trafficking

Because the first study requires Village Voice to use private credit card information, it is something they could only report carefully. However, because they possess a complete database of the verified emails of every person who has every posted an ad on their site, they could conduct a quick survey to make a better guess at how many of their patrons are traffickers.

Of course, because the person on the other end of the email could be: 1) a trafficker, 2) a trafficking victim, or 3) a sex-worker, the survey would have to be carefully constructed. Here are some sample questions drawing from the trafficking assessments provided by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and assuming the Village Voice is emailing only the posters who are at high risk of being traffickers, based on the work above. Warning: I’m trying to write questions to get information from human traffickers without making them suspicious. Expect skeeviness.

Welcome the the Village Voice’s Poster Survey! It should take about 5 minutes, and is completely and totally anonymous. Only if you are interested in winning a month of free gas/$500 will you be required to give us your email.[*]

  • Our viewers are always interested in the lives of the people in our ads. We would love some basic demographics:
    • Where are their hometowns?
    • Are their folks old enough to collect Social Security?
    • How long have they lived in their current town?
  • You’re a regular customer (thank you!). You seem to post about the services of several different people:
    • Where did you meet?
    • Do you provide transportation to appointments with customers? [traffickers control means of transport]
    • Do you live together? [traffickers often “boyfriend” women before selling them]
  • Now, down to the nitty gritty.
    • If a customer calls the number on your ad, who answers: you or her? [traffickers control cell-phones]
    • During appointments, how close by are you? [traffickers stay close to keep victims intimidated]
    • Hotel, delivery, private home?
  • We’re considering offering business advice and services to our best customers. Below are some questions to help us determine if you’re one of them.
    • Where did you look for clients before using us? [helps determine legitimacy]
    • What is your annual income?
    • What’s your experience?
  • Nearly done! Our last questions are about the beauties in the ads.
    • How many languages do they speak? Which ones? [traffickers target women from some populations more than others]
    • Height/weights? [this might help determine the age of the person in the ad–there are a limited number of women over the age of 18 who are 5′ and weigh 100 lbs.
    • Outside interests?

Thank you for your participation! If you are interested in winning $500/a month of free, please enter your email here:

There are probably a dozen other, good data-collection designs the Village Voice could use to guess how many people are being sold for sex through their service. Pimps don’t file income-tax returns, but they want easy money as much as anyone else. With a good survey design, and using the resources already at their finger-tips, the Village Voice could confirm or contradict what we know about trafficking. Shed light, rather than generate heat through ill-researched shredding campaigns.

If they’re journalists, they’ll do just that.

*Why these three? I tried to think about everything I know about traffickers. In pimp-controlled prostitution, traffickers watch their victims solicit from johns all night; on a cold night, with the heat on, that could take a lot of gas. $500 is the amount each woman in a typical pimp’s “stable” should bring in each night.

UPDATE: If you look in the comments, and scroll past the crazy, you will see that a Christine Pullman has decided to vent her internal demons onto the intertubes. As should be clear from my comments policy, as long as commenters stick to lies, bad research, misinformation and refrain from threats of physical violence or ad hominem attacks, I let them be. Remember people:

do not feed the troll

Inspirational Quote:

“The vision must be followed by the venture.  It is not enough to stare up the steps–we must step up the stairs.”–Vance Havner


  1. Adult Women are NOT children.

    Media coverage of trafficking and adult women’s migration and sex work is confused and inaccurate. The media wrongly uses the terms ‘sex work’ and ‘trafficking’ and adult sex work and child sex trafficking synonymously, as if they were the same. perpetuating stereotypes and stigmatization, and contributing to the violation of women’s right to free movement and livelihood options. They assume that if any woman moves from place to place for sex work that they are being trafficking. The media, politicians, aid groups, feminist, and religious organizations does not take into account that she may do this of her own free will. Too often women are treated like children. Prostitution is a business between adults and in our society adults are responsible for themselves. Sex slavery/trafficking on the other hand is non-consensual. To equate that the two are the same is to say grown adult women are not capable of being responsible or thinking for themselves.

    Adult women are not children.

    Most migrant women, including those in the sex industry, have made a clear decision, says a new study, to leave home and take their chances abroad. They are not “passive victims” in need of “saving” or sending back by western campaigners.

    Sex Trafficking/Slavery is used by many groups as a attempt to outlaw all prostitution around the world by saying that all women are victims even if they do it willing. This hurts any real victims because it labels all sex workers as victims.

    This is done by the media, aid groups, NGO’s, feminists, politicians, and religious organizations that receive funds from the government. There are very strong groups who promote that all adult women who have sex are victims even if they are willing, enjoy it and go out of there way to get it. These groups try to get the public to believe that no adult women in their right mind would ever go into the sex business unless she was forced to do so, weather she knew it or not. They say that 100% of all sex workers are trafficking victims.

    They do this in order to label all men as sex offenders and wipe out all consensual prostitution. Which is what their real goal is. There is almost no one who challenges or questions them about their false beliefs. Therefore, the only voices you hear are of these extreme groups. These groups want to label all men as terrible sex offenders for seeing a willing adult sex worker. No one stands up to say this is foolish, the passive public says nothing.

    These groups even say that all men who marry foreign women are terrible sex predators who take advantage of these “helpless foreign women wives”.

    These groups believe that two adults having consensual sex in private should be outlawed. Since they believe that it is impossible for a man to have sex with a woman without abusing the woman in the process.

    Non government Organizations (NGO’s) are chiefly responsible for manufacturing “a growing problem” of trafficking in order to generate revenue for their Federally funded cottage industry. They also fabricated numbers by expanding the definition of trafficking to include practically anyone.

    For example various women’s groups testified under oath at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (July 13, 2007) that US based matchmaking organizations were correlated to human trafficking ring.

    This hysterical claim was an emotional ploy to get legislators to enact the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act. The truth reveals THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A US BASED MATCHMAKING AGENCY ARRESTED FOR TRAFFICKING. These NGO’s spread their propaganda partnering with Lifetime television(Television for women) conducting a poll among viewers (mostly women) to asociate “mail order brides services” with trafficking of women to generate support for the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act.

    This romance law requires American men submit criminal hard copy records to be reviewed before they can communicate with a foreign lady using a matchmaking organization.

    Why should the US government dole out millions of dollars to NGO’s such as Polaris Project whose executives are paid handsome salaries.

    This is an example of feminists and other groups exploiting the suffering of a small minority of vulnerable and abused women in order to further their own collective interests. For example, getting money from the government and Charity into their organizations. Rather than wanting to find the truth.

    News night BBC video:

  2. Thank you for scrolling past the crazy. It seems a Christine Pullman has decided to vent her internal demons onto the intertubes. As should be clear from my comments policy, as long as commenters stick to lies, junk research, misinformation and refrain from threats of physical violence or ad hominem attacks, I let them be.

    Remember people: don’t feed the trolls.

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