Backpage, a classified advertising site founded in 2004, and its leaders are facing criminal charges for a slew of instances regarding the site being used to launder money and facilitate prostitution. However, there are also indicators that the site is guilty of facilitating sex trafficking, though none of the federal charges are in regards to this.
On April 9th, the Department of Justice shut down Backpage and all of its affiliate websites and released a statement regarding the site as the “the Internet’s leading forum for prostitution ads, including ads depicting the prostitution of children.”
In a 93-page indictment, 7 individuals involved in Backpage are being charged and CEO Carl Ferrer plead guilty to money laundering and conspiracy charges. He has now turned against the other men being charged and has given full access to the site to the government.
“For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the Department of Justice seized the site. “But this illegality stops right now.”
Possibly the most troubling aspect of the allegations is that they have gone on for so long. Backpage did not take responsibility for the advertisements posted on their site and put many women, often underage, in dangerous and illegal situations. While they were not the ones posting the ads, they created a channel that connected predators to victims and endorsed an idea that, through the web, anonymity and illegal behavior can thrive.
One of these predators, Jermichael Lindsey, used the site to respond to an ad for an escort on Backpage. When the woman arrived, he jumped from behind bushes, held a handgun to her head, and forced her into an alley where he sexually assaulted her. Lindsey is considered by authorities to be a “serial rapist” and had attacked and raped another woman just two days before the woman on Backpage, echoing a pattern of similar sexual assault charges that have lead to his possible involvement in five sexual assault cases. Backpage enabled Lindsey to access women that he could manipulate and assault.
Another sinister aspect of Backpage’s ill-doings is in regard to the confirmation that the site encouraged the sexual manipulation of minors.
In a case in Texas, the company plead guilty to “knowingly receiving a benefit from participating in a venture” that caused the compelled prostitution of a minor, then around 16 or 17. Ferrer, on behalf of his company, pleaded guilty on one count of trafficking in persons and one count of engaging in organized criminal activity.
Ferrer stated that, while he was aware that the escort section of Backpage was often used for prostitution, he does “not concede” that Backpage or any other defendant entities “had knowledge that the victim in this case…was underage at the time the Backpage.com advertisements of her were posted.” However, he says, the guilty plea comes from his knowledge that, “the Defendant Entities are guilty under the law ‘regardless of whether the defendant knows the age’ (of a victim).”
The trial for the seven individuals involved with Backpage, all of whom have pleaded not guilty, is set for January 15th, 2020.
The end of Backpage is being considered a win by many and is exposing much about what stays hidden in the folds of the internet. Hopefully, sites like Backpage will begin to take real responsibility in stopping the actions of those who misuse the platform.
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