May 7, 2020

STATEMENT – NCOSE Law Center Files Joint Brief to Prevent Backpage.com Owners From Avoiding Payments of Damages to Sex Trafficking Victims

Washington, DC (May 7, 2020) – The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center filed a joint Amicus Brief with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the federal government’s efforts to stop Backpage.com founders from trying to steal ill-gotten profits that would prevent its sex trafficked victims from recovering compensation.

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 this brief.

“Before its downfall in 2018, Backpage sold ads advertising people for sex in over 400 U.S. cities and approximately 900 cities worldwide – earning then-owners James Larkin and Michael Lacey and their top lieutenants an average of $9 million in profits every month. Many of the individuals featured in the ads were victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking, while some were just young children and teens. 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,” said Benjamin Bull, general counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

After the release of a pair of explosive Senate investigative reports in 2016 and 2017 on Backpage’s 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,” Bull continued. “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.”

“Federal District Court judge Gary Klausner got it right and correctly rejected Backpage’s objections. 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,” Bull added.

The name of the case is United States v. James Larkin, John Brunst, Michael Lacey, and Scott Spear.

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is a nonpartisan and nonsectarian non-profit and the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health harms of pornography.

Further Reading