Just the month before, a
20-year-old woman named Ashley Mays was found strangled to death inside a
suburban Atlanta hotel room. May was nine-months pregnant, and
had been strung up with zip ties binding
her hands and feet. She, too, had been advertised as an "escort" on the Backpage.com site.
National Association of Attorney Generals has described Backpage as a
"hub of human trafficking." The National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children reports that nearly 75 percent of the approximately
10,000 child sex trafficking reports it receives each year involve
minors whose availability for sexual conduct has been advertised on
Under pressure from federal congressional
committees investigating human trafficking, Backpage discontinued its
"adult services" section early this year. However, those sexually
oriented ads have simply been moved to other personal classified
sections advertising "dating,"
"massages," and "escorts."
Attorney General Hawley is not using an anti-sex trafficking law
recently adopted by the Missouri General Assembly as the primary basis
for his investigation. Last year the Missouri Legislature approved
an amendment to the state's human trafficking statutes criminalizing
the marketing of women and children for sexual conduct.
new law created the crime of "advertising the availability" of an
individual for sexual activity who is underage or is acting under
coercion or bondage. Instead, Hawley is using the state's consumer
statutes banning merchandising practices that are deceptive in nature.
U.S. Congress has also enacted legislation making it a federal crime to
advertise online the "sexual services" of children and women who are
enslaved in the sex trafficking trade. The new law was sponsored
by Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner, who has made the battle against
human trafficking a centerpiece of her career in Congress.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill has also been a fierce opponent of the
sex trafficking industry. McCaskill has been a key figure in
congressional investigations probing the sleazy operations of
Backpage.com. The owners of Backpage refused to respond to
questions from McCaskill and other senators, invoking their Fifth
Amendment right not to incriminate
founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin, and chief executive Carl
Ferrer are currently facing criminal charges in California for pimping
and money laundering. Numerous civil suits have also been filed
against the company in courts across the country, including one
involving a 15-year-old girl in Washington state who had been trafficked
on Backpage.com for three months.