Backpage.com, one of the world’s largest classified ad websites and a frequent target in the battle against sex trafficking, closed its adult ads section Monday in the United States, reports the LA Times. This decision follows the arrest of Backpage.com’s CEO, Carl Ferrer, booked on felony pimping charges in October. Visitors to Backpage now see “censored” pages in red font under the adult section’s menu of escorts, body rubs and strippers. Other sections remained operative, including for cars, real estate and childcare.
The adult ads were closed just after the release of a scathing U.S. Senate report that accused Backpage of hiding criminal activity by deleting terms from ads that indicated sex trafficking or prostitution, including of children, in order to keep them live and thus bringing in money.
The closure came the day before the scheduled testimony of Backpage’s founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, and the site’s CEO, Carl Ferrer, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ subcommittee on investigations. The Senate panel issued the report after a fierce battle of an investigation. Backpage refused to legally turn over company materials to investigators, but the panel secured a federal court order to force them to do so.
The Senate committee’s review of the company documents, totaling more than 1.1 million pages, found evidence that Backpage knowingly facilitated prostitution and sex trafficking including children, according to the report. The business was highly profitable and experienced explosive growth, from $5.3 million in gross revenue in 2008 to $135 million in 2014.
To keep the illegal sex ads online, the company edited them. One moderator said he removed material that was obviously indicative of prostitution but the post remained published. According to the report, the moderator testified under oath: “[My] responsibility was to make the ads okay to run live on the site, because having to get rid of the ad altogether was bad for business.”
It was common knowledge at the company that ads in the adult section were for prostitution, one moderator said, adding that a co-worker used the site to procure prostitutes, according to the report.
Senators Rob Portman and Claire McCaskill, who led the Senate investigation into the website, said Backpage’s move to edit its adult ads attested to the damning evidence their team uncovered.
“We reported the evidence that Backpage has been far more complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone previously knew,” they said in a statement.
“Backpage’s response wasn’t to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site. That’s not ‘censorship’ — it’s validation of our findings.”
This news signals a win for the anti-sex trafficking and anti-porn causes because of the close link between the two similar industries.
The reality is, there are too many in society that are blind to the link between porn and sex trafficking. They believe the porn industry and sex trafficking industry are two completely separate issues, one being legitimate and the latter being illegal activity that only happens in far away places like Thailand or Russia. Not so. The porn industry is a sketchy industry to begin with, but it takes a really dangerous turn when porn involving sex trafficking victims is made and distributed globally online. Countless women have been kidnapped, abused, drugged, threatened, and coerced into doing porn; this is, by definition, sex trafficking/slavery. And since sex trafficking is a local issue, as well as a global one, it doesn’t help when we ignore the issue in our own backyards and choose to look the other way.
Supporting one area of the sex trade fuels the demand for other areas. For example, in a study of 854 women in prostitution across nine countries, 49% said that porn had been made of them while they were in prostitution, and 47% said they had been harmed by men who had either forced or tried to force their victims to do things the men had seen in porn.
Each of us can start conversations by highlighting the heavy link between porn and human trafficking. By taking a stand, we can make a difference and help the world fight for real love.
What YOU Can Do
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