Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World’s Largest Sex Trafficker, by Maggie Krell

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Maggy Krell, and NYU Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While there are many deplorable criminal acts that take place on a daily basis, few are surely as horrid as sex trafficking. It would seem to be something that could be easily caught by the authorities, but those behind it are not only sly, but also know how to hide things in plain sight. With the emergence of the World Wide Web, people have turned to websites to move and sell people for their own profit, one of which was backpage.com After learning about this and doing her best to comprehend what was taking place, Maggy Krell went on a mission to close down the site and have those who run it brought to justice. This is her story and some of the battles she faced along the way.

Maggy Krell was a young lawyer who sought to make a difference in her own way. She saw some of the horrible crimes of child exploitation and sexual abuse crossing her desk and wanted to make a difference. She came upon Backpage.com, a website with a variety of things for sale, but also large ‘escort’ and ‘adult services’ pages, one that was rumoured to be a front for sexual slavery, where people could post and sell young women for a price and the authorities would be none the wiser. Working in California to get the ball rolling, Krell started her hunt to ensure that those at the top knew exactly what was going on.

As she worked more, it became apparent that the site was used almost entirely to sell young women into sexual slavery, with the other parts of the site there as a shell or front. Krell began pushing for more and seeking evidence that she could use to show that those who ran the site were knowingly participating in human trafficking and profiting off of it. It was slow, tedious, and sometimes horribly graphic work, but Krell stuck to her guns and made things stick.

The latter portion of the book explores bringing those in positions of real power to justice and having the courts decide their fates. While defence attorneys sought to put an arm’s length distance from the events or First Amendment defences forward, Krell and her team did all that they could to ensure the dots connected. This would be a major coup if the judge could see the clear-cut argument and rule in their favour. But, those running Backpage would not go down without a fight.

While Maggy Krell was successful in her endeavour, this is only the beginning. Just because a platform for illegal activity is closed down does not mean things stop. Women, men, children, and many others are being exploited on a daily basis and there is little that can be done, provided it is all committed on the sly. Exploitation and human sex trafficking (in fact, trafficking of any kind) is horrible and leads to many victims. It is the dedication of Maggy Krell and many like her that promise to do their best to remove key bricks in the wall, in hopes that each loosened brick will mean the wall will one day come crashing down.

While I do not read books of this nature with any regularity, I do find myself drawn to learning things about which I know little. Disturbing though it may be, I come away with a major sense of education and preparedness when I scan the news headlines on a regular basis. Krell writes in such a way that I can take things away from the narrative without feeling as though it is all above my head. She educates throughout, providing details and explanations to make sure things are well understood and their impact is not lost. I needed a book like this to open my eyes to the truths that occur around me. Well-documented chapters provide the reader with a pathway of understanding, as well as some photos to personalize the experience. As I mentioned before, this is a horrible topic, but I feel better knowing a little more about it and how it fits into the larger picture of criminal activity.

Kudos, Madam Krell, for your hard work and dedication to ensuring the reader understands what’s going on behind the scenes.