Backpage.com has closed its adult advertising section after two state attorneys general and a U.S. Senate panel has focused a light on its ads. The classified ads website has long been criticized for facilitating the promotion of sex trafficking, sometimes allegedly involving minors. The CEO was arrested in October.
The company maintains that the government is censoring them using “extra-legal tactics” and are violating the First Amendment.
This week, executives with the online advertising website shut down the adult section. The decision by the company was announced within hours of the release of a “blistering report” from a U.S. Senate panel “charging that Backpage.com systematically edits its escort ads, filtering out words that would suggest the site was promoting the sex trafficking of children,” reported USA Today.
Texas Attorney General Paxton released this statement on Wednesday:
Executives of the adult website Backpage.com – which is the focus of an ongoing investigation by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office – invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination during a congressional hearing this week in Washington, D.C. A U.S. Senate report, released earlier this week, accuses the site of running ads that knowingly facilitate the online trafficking of women and children. Backpage shuttered its ‘adult’ content in the U.S. just hours before the report was issued on Monday.
The decision of Backpage.com today to remove its Adult section in the United States will no doubt be heralded as a victory by those seeking to shutter the site, but it should be understood for what it is: an accumulation of acts of government censorship using extra-legal tactics.
Backpage.com shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin said they sold their shares in the company two years ago. They said in a joint statement obtained by USA Today, “Today the censors prevailed. We get it. … But the shut-down of Backpage’s adult classified advertising is an assault on the First Amendment. We maintain hope for a more robust and unbowed Internet in the future.”
Texas AG Paxton said on Wednesday, “Profiting at the expense of countless innocent victims by allowing them to be exploited for modern-day slavery is unacceptable. I commend the efforts of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations against Backpage to stop these types of despicable ads from causing human misery. My office has worked nonstop investigating this site’s criminal activities, and we will continue to do so until Backpage.com ceases to be a threat.”
Backpage is an interstate and international online “advertising” website and is considered the largest promotional platform for adult escort services in the U.S. It receives more than 90% of its revenue from the adult escort ad portion, and in California, that amounts to approximately $50 million in revenues earned between January 2013 to May 31, 2015, or between $1.5 to $2.5 million per month, reported Breitbart Texas in October 2016.
Breitbart News reported in the fall of 2014 that Backpage.com had been profiting from the exploitation of women and children for years. The article states:
[W]hat is even more appalling is that, so far, the site has gone largely unpunished by law enforcement for their facilitation of this despicable criminal activity. The “adult” section of the site has become a horrific hub for the sex trafficking industry as women and children are being illegally sold for sex through classified ads posted to their page.
As reported by Breitbart Texas this past October, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and then California Attorney General Kamala Harris made the highest-profile human trafficking bust in the Lone Star State’s history. The CEO of the online advertising website, Carl Ferrer, was arrested at a Houston airport after he flew in on a flight from Amsterdam. Harris is now serving as a U.S. Senator from California after winning the November election to replace Barbara Boxer.
At the time of Ferrer’s arrest, Paxton released a statement saying the victims that are sex trafficked include both voluntary and involuntary participants. He called the website a “deep-seated evil” and “modern-day slavery.”
The Texas and California attorneys general worked together on a lengthy investigation and found evidence that adult and child sex trafficking victims were forced into prostitution. The CEO of Backpage.com agreed to immediate extradition to California after his arrest in Houston on money laundering and pimping charges, as reported by Breitbart Texas.
Breitbart Texas has recently reported on several cases where Backpage.com was used for sex trafficking of minors. On December 19, a Houston man pleaded guilty in federal court to sex trafficking a child by posting classified advertisements on Backpage. In entering his guilty plea to one count of sex trafficking of a child, 27-year-old Deangelo Tate admitted that for three months in 2015, he promoted the prostitution of a 17-year-old female. He rented hotel rooms in Corpus Christi and Houston and drove the teenage girl there. He pocketed all of the money for trafficking her and would be physically violent if she did not follow his orders.
On October 17 Breitbart Texas reported that a Texas woman, Nancy Cisneros, was charged with three counts of compelling prostitution and three counts for trafficking a child. Court documents say she pimped a 16-year-old girl by posting advertisements for escort services on Backpage.com. Her alleged crimes went back to late June 2015, said government officials.
A man was busted in late October for allegedly sex trafficking a 14-year-old in Florida.