Book review by Stephanie Ygoa.
Title and author;
Taking Down Backpage – Fighting The World’s Largest Sex Trafficker
by Maggy Krell
About the book:
The book details the author’s experience in conceiving, building and leading a landmark criminal prosecution against the CEO and founders of Backpage.com – a classifieds site described by authorities as “the world’s largest online brothel”. According to Krell, up until the site was shut down by US authorities in 2018, Backpage.com was “the commercial sex industry’s biggest beneficiary”, operational in 800 cities across the world and almost universally used by brothels and street traffickers in California to advertise and sell their victims. Virtually every sex trafficking case prosecuted by Krell’s office featured an online ad posted on Backpage.com, a pattern which Krell was ultimately unable to ignore. Having spoken with hundreds of victims, Krell and her team built a case against Backpage.com’s CEO and founders, alleging that the site facilitated sex trafficking of both adult and child victims as young as 12 – and that the defendants knew it – and that the site was reaping millions in profit from the illegal sex trade. Krell’s account follows the trajectory of the investigation and arrest of the defendants; explains the evolution of the prosecution’s case from ‘pimping’ to money laundering charges; and concludes with a sobering reminder that authorities’ success in taking down the site is not enough: the epidemic of human trafficking persists, and demands a broad, inclusive and multifaceted response.
Krell offers rare insight into the work of law enforcement in tackling sex trafficking at the corporate level, detailing in layman’s terms the legal and operational challenges that she and her team encountered in mounting what was then such a novel case against (very) well-resourced ‘white collar’ defendants. Krell’s writing style denotes her extensive experience as one of California’s former top prosecutors: her account proves a fast-paced, compelling read, while resisting any temptation towards dramatic effect or embellishment (which would be both unnecessary, given the subject matter, and potentially exploitative, given the very real victims described). Krell has since left her position as a prosecutor but the case she started remains ongoing, and her story is well worth a read for anyone interested in the intersection between sex trafficking, the criminal justice system and corporate accountability.