In 2008, 13-year-old M.A. snuck out of her mother’s home one night to attend an end-of-the-school-year party with her friends.
But M.A. didn’t sneak back in. When she didn’t return home, M.A.’s mother, Kubiiki Pride, began searching high and low for her young teenage daughter.
According to the documentary, “I Am Jane Doe,” M.A. was kidnapped by a human trafficker.
Pride said she was in the dark for a whole 270 days before she found a clue on the website her family often used to buy furniture, televisions, and other electronics.
It’s called Backpage.com, and unbeknownst to many, the website has been known to host human-trafficking advertisements.
While looking over the website for something to buy, Pride stumbled across an ad that caught her eye, the Daily Mail reported:
“It was the third link from the top. It had stars and hearts, and it said young and new.”
It was the stars and hearts that caught her attention. When she clicked on it, she saw a handful of sexually explicit images of her daughter.
As Pride explained in the documentary, the photographs showed her daughter in provocative poses, wearing nothing but underwear. Pride knew exactly what she needed to do in order to get her daughter back:
“I called and asked to purchase the services myself.”
When M.A. was handed back over to her mother, she was addicted to drugs and had suffered horrific abuse.
Pride explained the her daughter was so dependent on the substances she was given that she ran away two times following her initial return home:
“My daughter was stabbed and burned, her head shaved, and she was beaten. […] I said, ‘Why are you running away?’ And she said, ‘Well, mom, I have to go and get these pills.'”
Two years after her return, the woman who took M.A. was arrested, charged, and sentenced to five years in prison. And because the advertisement featuring M.A.’s photo remained on the internet, the mother-daughter duo went after Backpage.com as well.
Pride sued the website in 2011, claiming that it “facilitated child trafficking.” The suit was later dismissed, citing section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
This court reasoned that Backpage.com is not responsible for the advertisements or services other parties post on its website.
While Pride and M.A. made little progress with their lawsuit six years ago, three women in Seattle, who were trafficked and sold on Backpage.com as well, received a confidential settlement earlier this year from the people who run the site, according to Fox News.
According to the Daily Mail, Backpage.com is responsible for around 80 percent of the human trafficking advertisements seen around the U.S.
M.A.’s photos were never removed from the internet. Pride said in the documentary:
“I asked them to take photos of my daughter down and they didn’t do so, I was just so angry. […] This company of adults made the decision to post these pictures without even taking the time to find out if they were children.”
Backpage.com has since removed its “Adult” section from the website.
Last month, a spokesperson for the site released this statement:
The decision of Backpage.com today to remove its Adult section in the United States will no doubt be heralded as a victory by those seeking to shutter the site, but it should be understood for what it is: an accumulation of acts of government censorship using extra-legal tactics.
Now 22 years old, M.A. is still coming to terms with what happened to her at 13 years old. Her mom said that while M.A. is still very full of love, she is, at the same time, still very, very broken.
As the Ark of Hope for Children reports, up to 300,000 children under the age of 18 are trafficked within the U.S. each year.
Watch a trailer for “I Am Jane Doe” below.