See this story at TimesLedger.com.

By Bill Parry

TimesLedger Newspapers

Survivors of sex trafficking joined U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) for a rally on the steps of City Hall Monday celebrating the FBI’s seizure and shutdown of Backpage.com and other websites that allegedly help those engaged in human trafficking.

Maloney was a lead co-sponsor of the bipartisan Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act that passed in the House and Senate and while it awaits President Trump to formally sign it into law, websites known to advertise sex with trafficking victims are already shutting down.

“Today, we celebrate another huge step in the fight against modern-day slavery,” Maloney said. “Congress overwhelmingly passed this transformational bill to combat online sex trafficking and clarify a 1996 law that inadvertently protected these online sellers of sex. Survivors and their families who tried to bring civil actions against these sites were getting shut out of court, and prosecutors who were trying to crack down on these websites had their hands tied. But no more! The way Backpage.com — and websites like it — do business is simply wrong, and the law should leave no room for confusion about that. These websites are not merely platforms; they are active participants in the sale of people for commercial sex. Their time is up.”

In response to the popularity of Craigslist, the online advertising site, Backpage’s predecessor opened a free classified website called Backpage Village Voice in 2004. It included a controversial adult section. In January 2017, Backpage suspended the adult section amid accusations of fostering prostitution and human trafficking.

Corona resident Shandra Woworuntu survived a harrowing ordeal at the hands of human traffickers after traveling to the United States from Indonesia in 2001 expecting a six-month seasonal waitressing job. Instead she was duped by a gang of sex traffickers and forced to work in brothels along the I-95 corridor for more than five months.

“Regardless of gender, religion, age, education, or nationality, we all deserve humanity, dignity and freedom,” Woworuntu said. “None of us should be advertised in the media internet as merchandise to be bought and sold. The best solution is through legislation which will stop these activities and to protect victims of exploitation and trafficking. Those victims deserve justice. It is important to increase prosecutions to the traffickers, their associates and the buyers.”

After she escaped the gang, Woworuntu founded the Astoria-based Mentari USA, a non-profit which has helped hundreds of victims reintegrate into society by offering them resources, education and mentoring. Human trafficking continues to be the fastest growing and the third-largest criminal activity in the world.

“This Department of Justice enforcement action, long due, represents a new era of justice for victims of online sex trafficking,” civil rights attorney Carol Robles-Roman said. “As a lawyer who has represented persons victimized by Backpage, I look forward to a thorough federal investigation of this alleged criminal activity, and that survivors finally have their much deserved day in court.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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