Backpage.com, a large classified ad website notorious for facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking, blocked its prostitution ads in the U.S. on Monday under mounting pressure for its role as a facilitator of sex trafficking.
This marks a narrow gain for the abolitionists of commercial sexual exploitation.
Backpage.com—one of the largest websites that hosts ads for the prostitution and the sex trafficking of adults and children alike—has blocked its prostitution advertising in America. Its prostitution pages now greet visitors with the message: “The government has unconstitutionally censored this content.”
This change occurred the night before Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were scheduled to testify to the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in their investigation into sex trafficking occurring on their website.
Importantly, the public should not fall for Backpage’s theatrical attempt to portray itself as the victim of government persecution or censorship. The only people under attack are those used as human fodder in Backpage’s gristmill of sexual exploitation. While Backpage likes to wrap itself in the First Amendment, free speech is not a license to orchestrate sexual exploitation.
Backpage has operated in a fashion akin to the East India Trading Company in the days of the African slave trade—as a willing and knowledgeable promoter and facilitator of egregious sexual exploitation.
Reports show that Backpage posted as many as 1 million prostitution ads a day, and in 2012-2013, generated 82.3% (at least $39 million) of its revenue from online advertising of prostitution. According to 51 state Attorneys General (including Guam and American Samoa) many cases of sexual trafficking are directly related to the posting of these ads. There can be no doubt that Backpage’s entire business model is built on sexual exploitation, and that as such, Backpage’s CEO and founders represent America’s top pimps.
While Backpage’s sudden change is a moment worthy of celebration for the countless elected officials and human rights advocates who battled the website, there is no mistake that this company’s decision was stagecraft motivated by self-preservation rather than human compassion for those they’ve harmed. This is especially highlighted by the fact that Backpage only removed its prostitution ads in America the night before its top executives were scheduled to testify before a Senate committee about Backpage’s role in promoting sex trafficking. Even now it continues to facilitate and profit from sexual exploitation around the world, and migration of sex ads from the blocked pages to other sections of Backpage’s website has already been identified. Backpage also has not moved to block prostitution on its other websites.
Thus, we urge Backpage—and other owners and administrators of websites of their ilk—to stop facilitating the sale of persons for sex across all of their platforms worldwide. Anything less is an unacceptable violation of human rights.
We add our voice to those of America’s state Attorneys General in calling on Congress to take swift action to amend the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a measure passed to protect children from indecent material on the Internet. Ironically, Section 230 of this Act has shielded Ferrer, Lacey, and Larkin, from several attempts at prosecution. This situation is untenable and represents the number one obstacle in America today to protecting the vulnerable from sexual predators.
Backpage.com is a member of the 2016 Dirty Dozen List due to its history of facilitating, and profiting from, sexual exploitation. You can learn more here: https://endsexualexploitation.org/backpage/
The 2017 Dirty Dozen List will be released mid-February 2017.