Backpage spokesmen bemoan what they describe as an assault on freedom of expression. "For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed. But new government tactics, including pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage, have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content in the United States," the company declared in a formal statement.
However, the recent actions by Backpage operatives should not be interpreted in any way as a wholesale retreat from the sex trafficking business. The company still retains its "dating section" and "massage" and "escort" sections that remain populated by ads that appear to be seeking or inviting sexual hook-ups.
Attorneys for Backpage have made the ludicrous argument that they are assisting law enforcement by luring human traffickers onto their website to be identified by federal, state, and local police cybercrime units. The company jokingly encourages contributions to organizations that are battling the very criminal behavior they are peddling.
Liz McDougal, attorney for the NCMEC, derided Backpage's claims that they are "partners" in tagging agents of human trafficking enterprises. "I don't think you can be in the business of providing an online bazaar for escort ads that include the purchase and sale of children for sex, and say that you are online to help fight the problem."
Last fall, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris charged Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and company owners James Larkin and Michael Lacey with charges of pimping a minor and conspiracy, accusing them of running "the world's top online brothel." The charges were dismissed, but new charges have now been filed accusing the three of money laundering and conspiracy to commit pimping.
St. Louis is regarded as one of the top twenty locales in the nation for human trafficking because of its central location in the Midwest. Two years ago a 26-year-old man was charged in U.S. District Court in St. Louis with prostituting a 15 and 16-year-old girl by posting ads on the Backpage website.
Senator McCaskill says that she and her committee will continue to keep the heat on the corporate lowlifes at Backpage. "As a former sex crimes prosecutor, I know that behind these cold financial statistics are survivors traumatized from years of abuse and degradation, and families suffering through years of terror and uncertainty concerning the fate of their loved ones."