When Kubiiki Pride’s 14-year-old daughter went missing in 2009, she did what any mother would do. She exhausted her resources, trying to find her daughter.
The teen had been missing for nine months, and not a second had gone by that Pride wasn’t thinking about her daughter and doing everything in her power to find her.
It was in the early hours of the morning, around 4:30 a.m., when Pride had finally discovered a recently-taken photo of her daughter.
Months of sleepless nights found her scowering the Internet for anything that might be a sign of her baby girl, and she’d found her.
It was in an ad for “escorts” on the adult page of a classifieds website called Backpage.com.
The St. Louis mother told the Chicago Tribune what went through her mind when she first saw the ad:
“My first emotion was complete happiness. Just seeing my child alive made me so happy.
When I took the whole picture in, that’s when I noticed the nakedness, the tattoos and the other woman in the pictures.”
The moments of joy in finding her daughter were immediately replaced by sorrow. It was then that Pride realized her daughter was being sex trafficked.
She said coming to the realization was “one of the most painful experiences” she’s ever had.
Pride reported her findings to police, who told her they’d execute a “sting” operation in which they’d lure her in and retrieve her safely.
But the mama bear inside of her couldn’t let her daughter endure that life for another second.
Pride dialed the number on the disgusting ad she’d found and “ordered” her daughter.
To her surprise, it worked.
Her daughter was returned home and for the first time in nine months, she was safe again.
But Pride’s journey was far from over. In fact, getting her daughter back was only the beginning.
She refused to let Backpage.com, which remains one of the world’s largest classified ad websites—second only to Craigslist, continue to promote and profit from victims of sex trafficking.
The Chicago Tribune reported that in one 24-hour period, Backpage.com had approximately 400 published ads for “female escorts.”
Backpage.com makes money by charging users for each “ad” they post, which can cost anywhere from $5-$10 per ad.
Pride filed a civil suit against Backpage.com, accusing the site of “knowingly facilitating” prostitution and child sex-trafficking.
Unfortunately she lost the case because federal law prevents web operators from being held responsible for posts on their websites, as it would be an infringement on their freedom of speech and the “healthy exchange of ideas.”
But her efforts were not all lost.
Just a few years later, Backpage.com was under fire yet again—this time for being linked to the high-profile murder of a Chicago high school principal.
The website’s involvement in the case led Cook County prosecutors and Senator Mark Kirk to work toward developing a law that would hold web operators liable if their sites facilitated prostitution or trafficking.
Their hard work paid off.
In January, the U.S. Senate found Backpage.com owners Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey liable for the countless sex trafficking ads on their website. They also accused the site owners of providing instructions to users about how to post “clean ads,” by omitting “words, phrases and images indicative of criminality, including child sex trafficking.”
Not only were they fully aware that their site was being used by the masses as a breeding ground for facilitating sex trafficking and prostitution, but Lacey and Larkin even went as far as “coaching” their users on how to write ads to avoid being labeled as a child sex trafficker.
Immediately following Senate’s release of the report, Backpage.com removed the “Adult” category from the website—a small victory for Kubiiki Pride and her daughter along with victims and survivors everywhere.
Still, Pride says her daughter may never heal from what happened to her during those nine months of trafficking.
“She’s still very much broken. She was trafficked for nine months. She was raped. She was physically abused.”
Pride and her daughter believe they can use their story to spread awareness and advocate for change in policies like that which led Backpage to delete the “Adult” section on their site.
The two are featured in a documentary called I am Jane Doe, which provides a harrowing look into the world of modern-day slavery and sex trafficking in the United States.