Human Trafficking on Backpage.com Under Fire By Attorneys General

In a joint action by 45 attorneys’ general, online classified site Backpage.com has been called upon to end the “online clearinghouse” for human trafficking. Though the site claims to have strict anti-criminal policies, the AG’s have found hundreds of ads on Backpage.com’s regional sites that are clearly for illegal services. “It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote.

Backpage has apparently taken over a large share of the human trafficking that Craigslist became famous for prior to the AG’s crackdown on that site – see my blog Seventeen State attorneys general Tell Craigslist to Drop Adult Services.

In a letter to the online classified site’s lawyers, the AG’s say the site is a hub for illegal sex ads and a magnet for those seeking to exploit minors. It points to more than 50 cases, in 22 states over the past three years, involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through Backpage. “These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely exist,” the attorneys general wrote. They also reminded Backpage of a 2010 request from nearly two dozen attorneys general asking that the adult services site be taken down.

The Backpage crackdown coincides with the ascension of Washington State attorney general Rob McKenna as this year’s president of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). McKenna’s presidential initiative is combatting human trafficking by holding traffickers and abusers accountable; mobilizing communities to provide hope and care for victims; and raising public awareness of the issue and reducing demand. To learn more about this initiative see the NAAG website Pillars of Hope: Attorneys General United Against Human Trafficking.

Here is an excerpt from McKenna’s Washington State AG website; “Traffickers who exploit runaways and other disadvantaged kids shouldn’t be provided with a powerful online clearinghouse. The only way for Backpage.com to completely stop child sex trafficking on its site is to take down adult services advertisements altogether and take aggressive steps to be sure such ads don’t surface elsewhere on the site.”

McKenna added that kids aren’t capable, legally or otherwise, to consent to be sold for sex. And regardless of a prostitute’s age, it’s difficult to know whether the person advertised is being coerced.

In many cases involving human trafficking on Backpage.com, law enforcement finds that minors are, in fact, often coerced. Prosecutors in Benton County, Wash., are handling a case in which teen girls say they were threatened and extorted by two adults who marketed them on Backpage.com.  One of the adults rented a hotel room in Kennewick and forced the girls to have sex with men who answered the online ads, for which Backpage.com charges $1 and up.

Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, LLC, is the top provider of “adult services” advertisements. The multimedia company, which owns 13 weekly newspapers in the United States including the Seattle Weekly, admits its involvement in advertising illegal services. In a meeting with staff at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Village Voice board member Don Moon readily acknowledged prostitution ads appear on the Web site. And in a June 29, [2011] article published nationally by the Village Voice, the corporation criticized those concerned about child sex trafficking as “prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession,” acknowledging that, as a seller of adults services ads, “Village Voice has a stake in this story.”

Join the AG’s in this fight against human trafficking AND against the practices of Village Voice Media – the parent company of Backpage.com

That previous paragraph leaves me gagging. It is sickening that the company not only freely admits its involvement in profiting from prostitution and illegal services, but defends their position by blaming those who would stop trafficking of victims as being “prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession.”

Vote with your mouse. Don’t use Backpage.com, or any of Village Voice Media’s other properties

To be sure, Village voice and Backpage aren’t alone in the facilitation of trafficking victims. A quick check on the Seattle Times Personals pages, and the Washington Post’s personal pages shows ads equally explicit and suggestive of trafficking – as do many other personals sites.

NOTE: the Seattle Times/NWSource site also sells the email addresses and usernames of ‘interested parties’ to other “adult” sites ensuring you are spammed instantly.

Learn more in these blogs:

Linda

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