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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My name is not Alissa

When I was 16, I was sold for sex against my will on a website called Backpage.com, the biggest website for child sex trafficking ads in America. Tell Village Voice Media, owners of Backpage, to shut down their sex ads now.
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Thank you for taking the time to read my story.  I am one of many girls who have been exploited and sold for sex online. And I was sold for sex on a website called Backpage.com, which makes $22 million a year from ads for prostitution.
You should know that my name is not Alissa. I’m afraid that if I use my real name, the pimps who used to sell me for sex will hunt me down and kill me. I am also afraid that Village Voice Media (which owns Backpage) will ruin my life and come after me as they have others who have stood up for girls who have been sold on Backpage.
But I’m even more afraid that if I don’t tell my story, no one will rise up to stop the people who buy and sell girls like me.
I was 16 when I met my first pimp -- he told me I was pretty, that he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I was just a kid, and I believed him. But soon he was selling me for sex every day: I was raped 365 days a year.
I was sold to other pimps, back and forth between them like an animal. One pimp gouged my cheek with a potato peeler as a warning not to run away, but after two years I worked up the courage and ran anyway. He tracked me down and beat me and stomped on me, breaking my ribs and jaw. That’s when I went to the police.
It’s still hard for me to believe that this web page exists, that it’s so easy for pimps to sell terrified, unwilling girls like me. Can you go buy a child at Wal-Mart? Of course not, but you can buy me on Backpage.
There is some hope, though: Craigslist used to host ads for girls like me, but after people started speaking out, Craigslist shut down their adult section. A new study says that prostitution ads as a whole have gone down by 50% since Craigslist got out of the business. 50%! If men can’t use sites like Backpage.com to buy and sell girls, maybe fewer girls will be bought and sold.
Now, I’m in college, and work at a nonprofit, FAIR Girls, where I help other girls like me -- I even got to tell my story to Nick Kristof at The New York Times. I got out, which makes me one of the lucky ones. But Backpage is still making millions a year off the ones who aren’t so lucky. I see these teenage girls, some as young as 15, every day now in my work, and it breaks my heart.

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