"I am Jane Doe": A Reflection

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Fifteen years old.

My youngest sister will be fifteen this coming December. She loves her choir class and English. She’s creative and vibrant when performing on a stage. She laughs confidently and loudly when with her friends and has taken an early liking to the taste of mochas in the morning. She has a hunger for reading and can be caught with her nose in a book at any given moment. She dreams of working as a social worker when she grows up.

Images of my sister, this creative and vibrant personality, continued to come to mind as I watched the documentary, I am Jane Doe. The accounts featured in this documentary provide a haunting and honest portrait of the reality of sex trafficking, specifically with children, and the platform of Backpage.com as a catalyst for the sex trafficking industry.

I am Jane Doe  follows the story of multiple young girls solicited for sex on Backpage.com. Photo by Richard Schultz for 50 Eggs Film

I am Jane Doe follows the story of multiple young girls solicited for sex on Backpage.com. Photo by Richard Schultz for 50 Eggs Film

Backpage is known as an online platform to purchase and sell anything from household goods to used vehicles, and as the testimonies of the documentary share, the purchase of children for sex.

The documentary reveals that 2/3 of children imprisoned by the sex industry are being pimped online.  

While technology has brought advances and ease, technology has also created a platform that streamlines trafficking through sites such as Backpage that are actively invested in the profit over people agenda.

I am Jane Doe follows the lives of different girls that were coerced into this lifestyle and repeatedly raped for the profit of their captors. It also shows the lack of social change that we have seen at the legislative level. The way that Backpage is involved in the trafficking industry is creating an easy route for traffickers to advertise the women and girls they have available for sexual exploitation. These traffickers upload photos and create ads adhering to the rules of Backpage and are able to post their X-rated images of girls on this platform resulting in calls for sex within minutes. Additionally, Backpage allows for prepaid credit cards for anonymity. Traffickers can spell out phone numbers, complicating the ability to trace, and are able to use emojis that communicate graphic and horrifying messages.

Photo credit: 50 Eggs Film // I am Jane Doe

Photo credit: 50 Eggs Film // I am Jane Doe

The frightening part is that current legislation protects this platform through Section 230, a legislative measure that protects publishers from third-party content.

This need for legislative change is the fight of I am Jane Doe. Despite lawsuit after lawsuit, change is still in progress, and slowly in progress as groups and individuals work to change the language of Section 230 to protect the people exploited by the platform of Backpage and hold those involved in the company accountable for their involvement in sex trafficking.

My sister is fifteen years old, just as Jane Doe in the documentary is fifteen. As interview after interview was shared, mothers and survivors alike emphasized that they would not wish this horrifying darkness on anyone. The idea that trafficking only happens in the slums of far-off countries is a comfortable lie that replaces the truth that sex trafficking is happening in the daily, in the mundane and at the click of an ad on Backpage. Ignoring this reality doesn’t change the fact that it happens or makes it any less tangible for those who live in this darkness or are surviving with the haunting memories. We stand up against exploitation because while those exploited are someone’s sister or daughter, they are also an individual, and in the specific cases in I am Jane Doe, a child. Someone is being sexually exploited and Backpage is a vehicle for that exploitation. As advocates, we must stand to be a voice for the voiceless. We must stand to affirm that the testimonies of I am Jane Doe are people that we stand behind.

Photo credit: 50 Eggs Film // I am Jane Doe

Photo credit: 50 Eggs Film // I am Jane Doe

The overwhelming question is, “What can we do?” Often times, knowledge drives despair as the realities of the sex trafficking industry appear insurmountable. At Dressember, we believe in the power of community. Just as the idea of wearing a dress every day for the month of December doesn’t seem to do much, your efforts partnered with those across the globe doing the same, raised $1,500,000 last year. What if we put that same energy also to seeing legislation changed? What if we increased awareness about the darkness of Backpage by sharing what we know now?

Advocacy is a year-round and daily process.

William Wilberforce worked to change legislation in England to end the slave trade during his time and said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” What will you do with your newfound knowledge?

View the documentary: 

To find out how you can further be involved in legislative action, visit I am Jane Doe's Official Website. Information on how to join the fight against the current language of Section 230 is available here as well as current petitions that can be signed.


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About the Author

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Sara Kernan is a proud Alaskan that now calls Southern California home (while trying not to melt in the summer). She is finishing her undergrad program this year and looks forward to this opportunity with Dressember to be an advocate of social justice on a different level. Sara can usually be found either drinking coffee or finding a new hiking trail with her husband and going on new adventures