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Woman who was a victim of sex trafficking at age 14 sues and Salesforce

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 1, 2021

By Alexis Krell (Tacoma) News Tribune

A woman who was a victim of online sex trafficking at the age of 14 has sued and Salesforce, a company accused of helping the website with marketing.

The lawsuit filed earlier this month in Pierce County Superior Court identifies the woman by the initials S.P.

“Backpage was assisted in their marketing endeavors by the corporation, Salesforce, and the minor Plaintiff was advertised and sold to be raped in Pierce County and Kitsap County,” in 2014, the lawsuit said.

The FBI and other U.S. Law enforcement agencies seized and shut it down in 2018.

Salesforce did not immediately respond to The News Tribune’s request for comment.

Part of its website features a statement from Chairman and Co-CEO Marc Benioff that says: “We know that technology is not inherently good or bad; it’s what we do with it that matters. And that’s why we’re making the ethical and humane use of technology a strategic focus at Salesforce.”

S.P.’s lawsuit gives this account of what happened:

Backpage became a client of Salesforce in 2013.

“ was the leading and most notorious marketplace for online sex trafficking and commercial sex in the United States between 2004 and 2018,” the lawsuit said. “This was in large part due to the custom-ready data and marketing tools designed by Salesforce, tailored to Backpage’s operation.”

The website made $135 million in 2014, primarily from “illegal ads for sex,” the complaint said.

“Salesforce provided extensive customer relations management and marketing support for,” the lawsuit alleges, and “helped Backpage thrive and operate on a much larger scale than before.”

The complaint said Ricky Lee Grundy Jr., who prostituted S.P. and is a defendant in the lawsuit, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after pleading guilty to human trafficking, child rape and promoting the commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

Erik Bauer, one of S.P.’s attorneys, said other cases he’s involved with against Backpage have been stayed pending resolution of a criminal case against former executives of the company.

A case he and others filed against Backpage in 2012 in Pierce County and ultimately settled made national headlines, was followed by a congressional report, and became the subject of the documentary “I am Jane Doe.”

“We’ve really been kind of a leader in this thing,” he said of Pierce County.

The new Pierce County lawsuit is not the only legal challenge Salesforce has faced in connection to Backpage.

More than 50 survivors of human trafficking sued Salesforce last year in Superior Court in San Francisco, alleging the company’s data tools helped Backpage grow, CNBC reported. A judge ultimately dismissed the lawsuit.

A Salesforce spokesperson told CNBC at the time: “We are deeply committed to the ethical and humane use of our products and take these allegations seriously.”

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