The internet is the modern way for people to connect, learn, and create on a virtual platform. It has generated an entirely new marketplace where anyone can sell or purchase whatever they want, including children. For young people, the internet is a completely freeing, yet incredibly dangerous place, and no one knows this better than the victims chronicled in the documentary I Am Jane Doe.
I Am Jane Doe is a 2017 documentary directed and produced by Mary Mazzio. It follows the journey of American mothers and their middle-school aged daughters who have been sold for sex on Backpage, a website that posts classified advertisements for a wide variety of products and services. The site once included an “adult services” section, which is where the nightmare began for these young girls.
I Am Jane Doe follows young girls from Boston, a 15-year-old from Seattle, and a 13-year-old from St. Louis, all who were forced into prostitution through Backpage. They have since escaped the life, but only physically, as the emotional damage they have endured from this disgusting market will never leave them. The film also deals with Backpage itself, including the judges, special interest groups, and attorneys involved in lawsuits. The film features interviews from multiple senators, including John McCain, Heidi Heitkamp, and Claire McCaskill.
Mary Mazzio came across the issue of child sex trafficking when she was filming a retired managing partner at a law firm near her Boston home. He was representing three children and their parents who had sued Backpage, where they were marketed as escorts. In a perfect world, these girls would receive justice in our legal system for the horrible, disturbing things they had to experience at such a young age. Unfortunately, this story reminds us of two terrible truths in our society: the market for child sex trafficking is thriving in America, and there are loopholes in our legal system that protect the websites where these children are sold.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a law that congress passed in 1996 to protect Internet companies from liability for content posted on their sites by other parties. Section 230 is Backpage’s legal shield. The legal proceedings for this case have so far consumed over six years and countless courtroom hours, yet the young victims have still not seen justice for the physically and emotionally damaging experiences they have suffered due to Backpage’s negligence.
The efforts of the mothers who have filed lawsuits against Backpage have sparked a political movement that now includes an investigation by the US Senate. To order the film, or find out if I Am Jane Doe is playing in a city near you, please visit their website iamjanedoefilm.com. Fifty percent of all proceeds are donated to non-profit organizations that serve Jane Doe children.
Mary Mazzio is an award-winning documentary film director, Olympian, former law firm partner, and the CEO and founder of 50 Eggs, an independent film production company. Her work has been featured on the Colbert Report and in The New York Times, USA Today, and Entertainment Weekly, among others.
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