Backpage Knew It Was Trafficking Children for Sex

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which passed with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority, was signed into law by President Trump and holds websites liable if they are used for sex trafficking.  How did it get through, despite Silicon Valley’s strenuous lobbying effort against it?  Because two authors of the bill, Senators Rob Portman (R- OH ) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO ) found evidence that one of the biggest sex-for-hire advertisers, classified ads site Backpage.com, knew it was trafficking children and even helped traffickers to avoid detection.

From Marc Thiessen:

How did the senators overcome Big Tech’s lobbying campaign? First Portman and McCaskill, the chairman and ranking member of the permanent subcommittee on investigations, used their subpoena power to gather corporate files, bank records, and other evidence that Backpage knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and children, and then covered up that evidence. They fought Backpage all the way to the Supreme Court to enforce their subpoenas.

The subcommittee then published a voluminous report detailing its findings of their 20-month investigation, including evidence that Backpage knew it was facilitating child sex trafficking and that it was not simply a passive publisher of third-party content. Instead the company was automatically editing users’ child sex ads to strip them of words that might arouse suspicion (such as “lolita,” “teenage,” “rape,” “young,” “amber alert,” “little girl,” “fresh,” “innocent” and “school girl”) before publishing them and advised users on how to create “clean” postings.

In response, as we blogged about, Craigslist has shut down its adult personals and Reddit has stopped solicitation on its pages.  Backpage has been taken off line completely.

Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer has pleaded guilty in three states of money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution, agreeing also to testify against his colleagues.  He quite openly confessed to what he did.   From the Washington Post:

In a remarkable three-paragraph admission in his federal plea agreement, Ferrer wrote that “I conspired with other Backpage principals … to find ways to knowingly facilitate the state-law prostitution crimes being committed by Backpage’s customers.”

Ferrer also acknowledged creating a “moderation” process to remove terms and pictures indicative of prostitution. “Such editing did not,” Ferrer wrote, “of course, change the essential nature of the illegal service being offered in the ad — it was merely intended to create a veneer of deniability for Backpage.” He said that these “editing practices were only one component of an overall, companywide culture and policy of concealing and refusing to officially acknowledge the true nature of the services being offered in Backpage’s ‘escort’ and ‘adult’ ads.”

Photo:  Senators Rob Portman and Claire McCaskill at SESTA hearing, by Sen. McCaskill’s office via Flickr, CC0, Creative Commons License

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