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Congressman Reichert, two U.S. senators call for end to child sex trafficking ads on Backpage.com
Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Auburn and U.S. Senators Mark Kirk, R-Illinois and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut added their voices to the tens of thousands of Americans signing online petitions and letters to Backpage.com, calling on the online classified site to end so-called “adult services advertisements.”
Kent Police have investigated a number of promoting prostitution cases involving Backpage.com, including the December 2010 arrest of Shacon Fontane Barbee in Kent for promoting prostitution, leading organized crime and promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor. Barbee faces a June 19 trial date.
“Every day, more voices join those speaking on behalf of young people sold by pimps on Backpage.com,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, who issued a media release Wednesday about the stance by Reichert and the senators. “It’s wrong when pimps traffic human beings and it’s wrong for a major corporation to monetize such exploitation. Backpage executives must decide if they will continue to be impervious to public opinion and immune to any sense of shame, or do the right thing.”
McKenna also referenced the development when he addressed a meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General earlier this month.
Most adult services ads are understood by those in the classified advertising industry and law enforcement to be euphemisms for prostitution, according to the media release. State attorneys general and police officers throughout the country say the ads facilitate the exploitation of minors, pointing to frequent arrests of those posting, propositioning or sexually assaulting minors posted on the site – even though Backpage executives say they spend significant resources rooting out ads that include minors.
Backpage.com generates tens of millions of dollars per year for its parent company, Village Voice Media Holdings, on such advertisements.
As Connecticut’s attorney general, Blumenthal led the successful effort to help end adult services ads on Craigslist. He also fired the first salvo against Backpage.com, calling the site’s adult services section “little more than online brothels.” Blumenthal pointed out that the Voice-owned site has a moral and legal obligation to purge ads that promote trafficking.
McKenna says it’s not too late for Village Voice to do the right thing, and Reichert agrees. A career in law enforcement gave Reichert, a former King County Sheriff, firsthand knowledge about the plight of minors recruited and exploited by traffickers.
"Runaways often flee from abuse at home and end up alone on the streets," said Reichert in the media release. "Criminals target them because no one notices they're missing and too often they wind up in the hands of pimps who sell their services on websites like Backpage.com. These kids need our help and I will continue to investigate how we can prevent online classified sites from being used to harm them."
Kirk believes the key to ending child abuse under backpage.com is raising the public awareness to the “profit first” mentality at Village Voice, which has turned a blind eye to this tragedy. “Citizens are disgusted to learn how often children are being used as prostitutes in their own backyard,” said a spokesperson for Kirk. “Senators Kirk and Blumenthal will not rest until children are no longer victimized by this website.”
Last August, McKenna and 45 other attorneys general sent a letter to Backpage.com calling for information about the company’s stated efforts to delete advertisements for sex trafficking, particularly those that could involve minors. To date, 48 states and three territories have joined the effort to hold Backpage.com accountable.
In addition, more than 97,000 Americans signed an online petition created by Groundswell asking Village Voice to “stop selling ads that others use to sell minors on Backpage.com by shutting down the Adult section of the website.”
In February, a groundbreaking bipartisan bill passed the Washington Legislature, making it illegal to knowingly publish an escort ad involving a minor. It offers an affirmative defense for those who can show they obtained age verification before an ad was published. McKenna made his fellow attorneys general aware of the bill, suggesting that similar legislation should be considered in other states.