Office of the Attorney General
Attorneys General Set Deadline for Online Classified Website to Prove It Is Fighting Human Trafficking
Attorney General Jack Conway and 45 other state attorneys general today gave Backpage.com, a popular online classified website, a Sept. 14 deadline to substantiate claims it can effectively limit prostitution and sexual trafficking activity, which could involve minors, on its website.
In a letter to Backpage.com's lawyers, the attorneys general say the website claims it has strict policies to prevent illegal activity. Yet the chief legal officers of Washington state, Missouri and Connecticut 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.
The letter says the hub for illegal sex ads is a magnet for those seeking to exploit minors and points to more than 50 cases, in 22 states over three years, involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through Backpage.com.
"These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely exist," the attorneys general wrote. They also reminded Backpage.com of a 2010 request from the attorneys general asking that the adult services site be taken down.
"Traffickers who exploit runaways and other disadvantaged kids shouldn't be provided with a tool that makes that process so much easier," General Conway said. "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 posts don't appear elsewhere on the site."
In 2008, Attorney General Conway was among 42 attorneys general to reach agreement with Craigslist to crack down on illegal listings, in an effort to reduce crimes like human trafficking. Craigslist ultimately removed its "erotic services" section in May 2009.
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 and forced the girls to have sex with men who answered the online ads. Backpage.com charges $1 and up for such ads.
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 `admits its involvement in advertising illegal services.
The letter from state attorneys general makes a series of requests to Backpage.com, asking that the company willingly provide information in lieu of a subpoena.
Link to the Letter: http://goo.gl/Kja2v