First, the good news. CityXGuide, the illicit site that was often described by users as “taking over from where Backpage left off”, has been shut down by The U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The owner, Wilhan Martono, was indicted with 28 federal accounts and could face 25 years in federal prison. The site allowed pimps and brothels to openly advertise women and children for sex, including minor victims. Its geographic reach spread across major U.S. cities, including Dallas.
Martono allegedly netted more than $21 million off a suite of illicit websites promoting prostitution and sex trafficking that he registered just one day after the FBI shut down Backpage.com.
Digging deeper into the story, there’s four takeaways for you to understand:
- The big business of trafficking. The CityXGuide news confirms that its owner allegedly made over $21 million in revenue with websites promoting illicit activities. The fight for justice must extend to those who facilitate trafficking.
- The evolution of masking crime. The sophisticated site received funds through gift cards and bitcoin, making it more difficult to build a criminal case. In addition, the site used IP addresses from Europe and overseas bank accounts to disguise U.S. domestic activity. As traffickers evolve to evade detective, DeliverFund must evolve faster.
- Training to understand sophisticated networks. DeliverFund trains law enforcement to not only see indicators of human trafficking, but to understand how illicit networks are financed and facilitated. It will take a comprehensive approach to uproot an illicit industry.
- DeliverFund is actively monitoring over 30 sites like CityXGuide not yet in the news. We continue to collect intelligence to counter human trafficking, to shut down more sites and disrupt an illicit market.
We celebrate a victory in the pursuit to end human trafficking.
Sex Trafficking Websites in the News
In recent months, there has been a lot of noise about the website OnlyFans, a site that saw its enormous growth on the back of the pornography industry (they claim to have more than 1.25 million content creators who produce pornography). When trying to reach more investors, the site said that it was going to remove pornography from its offerings, but there was swift backlash from users and content creators alike.
The problem, however, is that many groups are saying that OnlyFans is a shelter for sex traffickers. In an interview with News 4 San Antonio, Allison Franklin, a former sex trafficking victim who has become a victim advocate, expressed it this way: “I can go on OnlyFans and see that’s gonna be a victim,” Franklin said. “That’s gonna be someone who will be targeted, because I was groomed by my trafficker to look for that.”
“As DeliverFund’s Senior Targeting Analyst Kara Smith has said before, “It is very difficult for buyers and observers in the sex industry to tell the difference between a sex trafficking victim and a willing participant.
This OnlyFans issue comes on the heels of a Pornhub lawsuit, in which 40 women are suing the site claiming they were sex trafficked and forced to be in pornographic material. According to the BBC, the victims allege that Pornhub knew of the allegations against the womens’ content partner, Girls Do Porn, and neglected to stop it or remove it from their channel.
A New York Times investigation spurred both Visa and Mastercard to stop allowing their services to be used to pay for Pornhub, after claims of child abuse and rape-related content.
The BBC writes: “some women were pressured into signing documents without reading them or threatened with legal action; some were ‘not permitted to leave the shooting locations until the videos were made’; and some were ‘forced to perform certain sex acts they had declined to do, or they would not be paid or allowed to leave’.
“And the complaint says some were sexually assaulted, and in at least one case raped.”
DeliverFund assists our law enforcement partners with vital intelligence needed to rescue victims and arrest human traffickers, but the work of recognizing what trafficking really looks like and how it’s presented in our culture needs to be done at a community level.
Only then can we take collective action to end human trafficking…for good. Read more about the signs of human trafficking here.