How Sex Traffickers Communicate in the Digital Age - NBC Chicago
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How Sex Traffickers Communicate in the Digital Age

Online sites made $45 million from online prostitution ads in 2012, watchdog group says

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Online sites made $45 million from online prostitution ads in 2012, watchdog group says. NBC5's Marion Brooks has more. (Published Monday, Dec. 15, 2014)

    On a recent day in an undisclosed suburban Cook County motel, 11 men answered an ad for sex on backpage.com and ended up in handcuffs.

    There were 11 arrests within 90 minutes.

    "The volume is immense," said Bill Leen, a commander with the Cook County Sheriff’s Police vice unit.

    It's also lucrative.

    An online advertising monitoring company, aimgroup, says online sites like backpage.com made $45 million from online prostitution ads in 2012, the last year they tracked. Backpage.com earned 82 percent of that cash.

    Glossary of Sex Trafficking Hashtag Terms

    Backpage.com, through its lawyer, Liz McDougall, said it encourages the use of its site for these stings, especially "to help locate and rescue possible victims of sex trafficking."

    That gives you a sense of the demand for paid sex and how many are accessing it. The Internet and social media play a role in the supply side as well.

    Tyrelle and Myrelle Lockett are twins who were arrested by Cook County Sheriff’s Police for trafficking in 2010. They were just 17 years old at the time.

    Tyrelle Lockett Criminal Complaint

    "They were typical predators. They prey on the weak," said Mike Anton, the department's deputy chief for special operations.

    The brothers pleaded guilty and were out of jail by 2012.

    This past spring, Tyrelle Lockett was arrested again for trafficking. It was the FBI who got him.

    His criminal complaint laid out how he allegedly used the Internet, specifically Facebook, to lure his victims. Facebook wouldn’t comment on Lockett’s alleged use of the site because his case is pending.

    On Lockett’s page, cited in the criminal complaint, there were several photos of lots of money, guns and flashy jewelry.

    Lockett claimed he was a hip hop artist as his profession. But he also said he "worked at pimpin'."

    According to the complaint, he seemed to cruise Facebook looking for girls. In several excerpts of exchanges between "individuals" -- often minors -- he would say things like, "I just wanna say you sexy," and "I got big things set up for us."

    He would describe escorting as "fast easy money" and say "I'm [willing] to spoil you."

    "They’re promising something that a lot of young people are trying to obtain. ... money, glamour because they sell it," said Anton.

    A 20-something intern with an organization that helps trafficking victims, the Dreamcatcher Foundation, helped decipher the online messages. In Arielle Thompson's research on Instagram, she noticed hashtags and that outlined an underground world.

    "It’s like a whole different language," the 22-year-old explained. "It is like a cyber prostitution ring."

    For example, Thompson found, #304 means "hoe" (think of a calculator turned upside down), #rpgo means "real pimpin’ goin’ on," and #rpho is "real hoin' goin’ on."

    We even noticed one hashtag #choosen in the complaint against Tyrelle Lockett.

    Thompson said choosen means "a guy is looking for girls."

    Sheriff Tom Dart, whose officers first arrested Tyrelle Lockett and routinely conducted backpage stings said the information should be known by all.

    "It is horribly dangerous out there," he says. "This isn’t trying to scare you. This is real."

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