The infamous story of Backpage.com’s exploitation and trafficking of women and children is fairly well known at this point. What is little known, however, is the raging battle being waged in the courts to prevent Backpage’s erstwhile former owners from absconding with millions of dollars in illegal profits made from their now-shuttered sex business. The former owners have been caught red-handed attempting to steal away their ill-gotten profits to prevent the victims from ever recovering a penny’s worth of compensation.
On May 5, 2020, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation joined other prominent abolitionist organizations, including Legal Momentum, the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, The National Crime Victim Law Institute, and United Abolitionists in filing an Amicus Curiae Brief—a Friend of the Court Brief—with the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief is submitted in support of the federal government’s efforts to stop this palpable expropriation and require the forfeiture of the profits for the benefit of the victims.
It’s well known that, before its downfall in 2018, Backpage sold ads advertising people for sex in over 400 cities in the United States and approximately 900 cities worldwide. Many of the individuals featured in the ads were victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking, while some were just young children and teens. These ads earned Backpage’s then-owners James Larkin and Michael Lacey and their top lieutenants an average of over $9 million in profits every month.
After the release of a pair of explosive Senate investigative reports in 2016 and 2017 on Backpages’ sex trafficking practices, and on the heels of a major court loss at the Supreme Court of Washington, Backpage’s owners began moving their profits off-shore and purported to sell the company to a foreign buyer. All of these efforts were transparent attempts at concealing and indeed laundering the profits from their criminal enterprise to frustrate the claims of the victims.
The federal government is now properly attempting to secure the money earned from this illegal operation through federal forfeiture laws. Backpage and its swarm of attorneys are resisting this effort claiming, incredibly, that the protection of the First Amendment shields them from the consequences of their illegal behavior. One can only imagine how the nation’s founders would view this twisted interpretation of the Free Speech Clause where the First Amendment is turned on its head to license the rape, sexual abuse, and victimization of countless women and children. To date the casualties of this abuse have received zero compensation in damages and the courts must not allow Backpage to victimize them a second time.
Federal District Court judge Gary Klausner got it right and correctly rejected Backpage’s objections (link below).
It’s now up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to do the right thing and prevent Backpage from getting away with its illicit profits.
The name of the case is United States v. James Larkin, John Brunst, Michael Lacey, and Scott Spear.