Triplicate Staff Writer Jessica Cejnar and I attended a recent Screening of “I Am Jane Doe” on Tuesday, presented by Soroptimist of Crescent City. The crowd contained about 10 less than I expected, as both the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and Crescent City City Council had heard presentations at their last meetings about the screening but none attended.
In fact, Sheriff Erik Apperson, myself and another man were the only men at the screening along with about a dozen women.
The documentary is worth seeing for many reasons and I can assure you, the imagery is not hardcore at all and only a few tactfully blurred screenshots are shown.
The film is more about child sex trafficking and the legal battles some families have gone through trying to sue backpage.com, an online classified ads site similar to Craigslist for their part in hosting ads that sell children for sex in this very country. However, attempts to find justice in the case were thwarted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents an online publisher from being liable for what a third party posts on its website.
As a pragmatic and objective person by nature, I found myself, at times, agreeing that an Internet publisher should not be held liable for what a third party posts. It’s the same legal concept that keeps you from suing a newspaper if someone posts a fraudulent ad in the classified section, or that keeps Facebook from being sued over the posting of libelous or incorrect information.
However, the documentary paints a damning picture of the founders and CEO of backpage.com, making a convincing case the website assists posters in skirting the law in order to traffic minors for sex. If that’s ever proven in court to be the case, I feel they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and backpage should be shut down.
However, in case after case, suits, charges and cases have been dropped in favor of Section 230.
Presenter Benita Cabrera was right to say “this will piss you off,” before she started the film. However, it also made me uncomfortable as I imagined my own stepdaughter’s voice saying “I Am Jane Doe.”
One unnerving statistic is that the average age of entry into child sex trafficking is 12 to 14 years of age. I don’t need to say “imagine this happening to your child” because I know you already are.
As it stands, it doesn’t appear that attorneys for the families will prevail anytime soon, leaving one to wonder what can be done. Even if families successfully sue or shut down backpage, the Internet could surely find space for those ads somewhere else.
So what can parents do?
In a casual conversation after the screening, Apperson stressed that education is currently the best defense parents have when it comes to protecting their children.
Jessica and I agreed prevention needs to happen immediately and parents cannot be shy about broaching the subject with their kids. One could argue that failing to do so could have unimaginably horrible
This film will make you uncomfortable, angry, sad and a bit frustrated, and well, it should. Awareness of this issue needs to spread far and wide, and kids need to have a network of trusted adults who remain vigilant when it comes to their health and safety.
I’m not going to sugar coat this. Go see this film and recommend it to others. Get mad. Talk about what you have seen and work with others to increase awareness. Then talk to your kids.
The Soroptimists felt the film was so important that they bought the right to show it as much as possible. They will be showing the film on the second Tuesday of every month at the Family Resource Center on Pacific Avenue. Cabrera said she will also hold special screenings for groups. Call 707-218-8282 to schedule a group screening. (psst- it’s also on Netflix)
Reach Tony Reed at email@example.com