U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has joined a growing list of U.S. Senators and Representatives concerned about Backpage.com‘s trafficking of young girls – a practice lawmakers said generates tens of millions of dollars per year for its parent company, Village Voice Media Holdings via classified advertisements. See the press release here.
While Hawaii has passed anti-trafficking legislation, and is considering additional legislation this year, this is the first time federal legislators are reviewing the matter.
The press release from several members of Congress said: “Most adult services ads are understood by those in the classified advertising industry and law enforcement to be euphemisms for prostitution. 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.”
According to Villagevoicepimp.com, an organization that closely tracks sex trafficking via Backpage.com, said the site is “widely acknowledged as the premier online destination for pimps who sell underage girls into sexual slavery as well as the depraved customers who pay for them.”
Backpage.com openly promises to connect its clients with everything from escorts, body rubs, strippers, strip clubs, and domination and fetish to transsexuals, male escorts, and pornographic web sites its adult services section.
The Senators who signed the bill “have 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.”
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-WA said he is getting involved because runaways often flee from abuse at home and end up alone on the streets. “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.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Mark Kirk, R-IL, said “citizens are disgusted to learn how often children are being used as prostitutes in their own backyard.”
While Akaka signed the letter, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, did not. A spokesman for Inouye’s office could not be reached for comment to say why.
Forty eight states and three territories are seeking to hold Backpage.com accountable through various means and more than 97,000 Americans signed a Groundswell petition 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.”
Forty-six attorneys general – including Hawaii Attorney General David Louie – in September formally asked Backpage.com’s owners to prove it is preventing children from getting trafficked through its classified advertisements.
Hawaii Attorney General David Louie called the site a “beacon for human traffickers.”
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said: “Every day, more voices join those speaking on behalf of young people sold by pimps on Backpage.com. 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.”
Washington State has become increasingly more aggressive in its efforts to stop trafficking. The state Legislature, passed a law making it a crime to knowingly publish an escort ad involving a minor. McKenna suggests other states should consider such legislation.