[Tallahassee, FL] Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has had enough of the illegal activity being advertised on Backpage.com. Yesterday, Bondi and 45 other attorneys general sent a letter to the attorneys for the online classified site pointing out that despite stated company policy, advertisements regularly appear for sex trafficking.
And in some cases, the ads have involved minors.
“Human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery, exploits people and strips them of their dignity,” stated Bondi. “We must collaborate with federal, state and local authorities and other organizations to combat this growing problem.”
Attorney General Bondi 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.
Backpage.com, which has advertisements for just about everything, says it attempts to remove the illegal ads, but chief legal officers from Washington to Connecticut say otherwise. Hundreds of ads for illegal services routinely appear on the site’s regional pages.
In less than a minute, I was able to find an ad – complete with pictures and a telephone number – from Cindy on Backpage.com under the heading of “escorts.” The 23-year-old was “accepting donations for [her] time and companionship” for only “100 roses per hour.”
Cindy displaying her wares on Backpage.com
“It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter.
The attorneys general were blunt in their assessment of Backpage.com: it is a hub for illegal sex ads and the go-to place on the web for those looking to exploit minors. The letter states that there have been more than 50 documented cases involving the trafficking of minors over a three-year period.
“These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely exist,” the attorneys general wrote of the cases, which occurred in 22 different states.
In 2010, nearly two dozen attorneys general asked that Backpage.com be taken down. It wasn’t.
Backpage.com, the top provider of “adult services” advertisements, is owned by Village Voice Media, LLC. The multimedia company is the parent company of Miami New Times and Broward/Palm Beach New Times as well as eleven other weekly newspapers in the United States.
Village Voice has admitted in the past that it has advertised for illegal activity, including prostitution. The company makes an estimated $22.7 million annually from advertising adult services.
The legal pressure on Backpage.com could likely interfere with the company’s cash cow: ads for prostitution.
Craigslist came under similar scrutiny from attorneys general in 2008. By 2009, the popular classifieds website completely removed its “erotic services” section, which regularly featured ads for prostitutes and illegal sex activity.
Now it is Backpage.com’s turn.
Disturbing cases such as the one that played out in Benton County, Wash., will make it hard for Backpage.com to claim that they are doing everything they can to curb human trafficking, especially involving minors. In that case, teen girls were extorted by two adults who rented a hotel room and forced the girls to have sex with men who answered their Backpage.com ads.
By: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate
Images: Cindy’s ad on Backpage.com, Backpage.com Resources: Attorney General Pam Bondi, Cindy’s ad on Backpage.com, Backpage.com, AG letter to Backpage (PDF)