The backpage.com shutdown has made waves in the adult advertisement community after the FBI concluded their years-long investigation due to concerns regarding sex trafficking.
Backpage.com is an adult classifieds website that has received a reputation, whether deserved or unfounded, as a hotbed for sex workers and clients to connect. Whether that’s a problem in and of itself depends on your individual moral compass, but the FBI believes that the site may be promoting sex trafficking – a major problem that they hope the backpage.com shutdown will address. The FBI confirmed on Friday that they had also raided the Sedona home of Michael Lacey – the founder of backpage.com – possibly suggesting that he played some hand in the issue outside of a misappropriation of his site.
While it was not known when exactly we’d see the backpage.com shutdown, the site had been under investigation for years due to allegations that it facilitates sex trafficking on the ads page. The FBI clearly feels that there was enough evidence to warrant the backpage.com shutdown, and insists that the site may have been used for nefarious purposes.
The site has long skirted the law by allowing users to post ads for “escorts” who are paid for their time rather than for sex, with whatever happens on the date being activity between two consensual adults. It’s a legal gray area as the agreement is made for companionship rather than sex, but the backpage.com shutdown was due to sex trafficking – which is a pretty cut and dry issue when it comes to discussing legality.
While the backpage.com shutdown is the latest news in the world of adult personals, the FBI has already taken action and shut down a number of other adult websites due to the fear that they were enabling sex trafficking. The FBI alleges, too, that the site was used to facilitate sex with underage girls.
In the documents surrounding the backpage.com shutdown, there is information from 17 victims who all claim they were forced into sex trafficking – with some of them being children.
The charges that led to the backpage.com shutdown were filed in Arizona, because that is where the website is founded and where the servers are maintained. The Department of Justice has come forward and stated that almost every single sex trafficking case involves some sort of online advertisement – with many of them coming from backpage.com
Part of the Department of Justice’s issue with websites like backpage.com is that they facilitate sex trafficking by giving sheepish people access to victims that they may not be brave enough to approach on the street – leading to more business for traffickers and driving up the demand for young children who were forced into prostitution. Previous cases against the site had been thrown out of court, but this one seemed to stick – causing the backpage.com shutdown and hopefully lowering the prevalence of child sex trafficking. The DOJ alleges that the site has earned $500 million in revenue from prostitution since it was first created.
The evidence that led to the backpage.com shutdown seemed pretty damning, with a report from the U.S. Senate subcommittee back in 2017 stating that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s data indicates a whopping 73 percent of the child trafficking reports they receive link in one way or another back to backpage.com. If this is true, it is a major blow to those involved in trafficking, as it shuts down a major avenues for people to connect with escorts.
Executives from backpage.com insist they are protected by the Communications Decency Act which regulates pornographic material on the Internet, and suggests that the law states that the sites can’t be held responsible for content created by third parties. Investigators stated that the site lost the protection from that act when they alerted posters to key terms relates to child sex trafficking – even going so far as to allow users to rephrase their ads so that they wouldn’t be flagged for child sex trafficking, warning them not to use terms like “Lolita”, “young”, “teenager”, or even the term “Amber Alert.” The CEO of the website, Carl Ferrer, was arrested back in 2016 on pimping charges – suggesting that the leadership was well aware of the material on the site and perhaps warranting the backpage.com shutdown.
U.S. Senator John McCain has since released a statement on the backpage.com shutdown that explains the justification of the Department of Justice and the Senate.
“The seizure of the malicious sex marketplace Backpage.com marks an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking. This builds on the historic effort in Congress to reform the law that for too long has protected websites like Backpage from being held liable for enabling the sale of young women and children. Today’s action sends a strong message to Backpage and any other company facilitating online sex trafficking that they will be held accountable for these horrific crimes.”
Whether or not the backpage.com has an appreciable effect on the prevalence of child sex trafficking remains to be seen, but it does shut down one of the top sites for connecting clients and escorts. While many insist that interested parties will just migrate to other sites, the popularity of backpage.com was unprecedented – making the shutdown a major deal for those involved in the industry as a client or worker.