Action News Jax is investigating how a young woman with special needs was reportedly trafficked for sex in Jacksonville on Backpage.com two months after the website shut down its adult services section.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office rescued the woman and arrested her accused traffickers on Monday night at Baymont Inn & Suites in Argyle Forest.
The young woman disappeared from her special needs class at school more than a month ago.
On Wednesday, a judge set bonds for Tamia Oliver and Demontre Clark, who JSO said were trafficking the young woman and pocketing all the cash.
In January, Backpage shut down its adult services section under pressure from the federal government, but the sexual ads haven’t stopped.
More than 60 ads for massages were posted on Backpage’s Jacksonville site on Wednesday.
It’s clear from the descriptions that most of them are not of the therapeutic variety.
A quick search of the massage section yields post after post for “new young and hot girls” and “yummy complete body rub.”
One post specified it’s a “mutual touch” massage.
The “dating” section is even more vulgar, with explicit photos and intimate descriptions.
“It’s just a façade that it’s been shut down,” said Action News Jax crime & safety expert Ken Jefferson.
A former sex crimes investigator, Jefferson said it’s likely there are more local sex trafficking victims being advertised on the website.
“Backpage.com knows exactly what they’re doing. They may say they’ve shut down the adult services section. There’s always another way to get around what they really want to accomplish, and that’s what’s happening now,” Jefferson said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said 73 percent of the trafficking tips it gets involve Backpage.
Jefferson said police have a new tool to target the men who took advantage of the young woman rescued on Monday night.
Officers found her cellphone, which they said was being used by her captors to communicate with men for sex.
Jefferson said that phone could lead to more arrests.
“This kind of gives them a head start on apprehending these johns,” said Jefferson.
At a meeting last week to discuss ways to combat human trafficking in Jacksonville, multiple victim advocates brought up the need to target the demand.
“First, you’ve got to find the victim. And then you’ve got to find the perpetrators who are employing the victims. And then you’ve got to work your way back to the johns. So this is one way to try to make a dent in it, to get the johns off the street,” Jefferson said. “I like to think that there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on persons who can’t fend for themselves.”
The young woman’s mother told police her daughter could not have written the Backpage.com post advertising herself for sex, because she cannot spell or count money.
Cox Media Group