TOPEKA – Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt Wednesday asked for information from the online classified site Backpage.com describing its procedures for removing advertising for sex trafficking, especially ads that could involve minors.
In a letter to the site’s lawyers, Schmidt along with 45 other attorneys general said that while Backpage.com claims it has strict policies to prevent use of its site for illegal activity, a review by several attorneys general offices found hundreds of advertisements on Backpage.com’s regional sites clearly offering illegal services. The letter states that the site is a magnet for those seeking to exploit minors and points to more than 50 cases in 22 states over three years involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through Backpage.com.
“It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote. “These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely exist.”
While Backpage.com has increased its effort to screen some ads for minors, the attorneys general in today’s letter wrote that “Backpage.com sets a minimal bar for content review in an effort to temper public condemnation, while ensuring that the revenue spigot provided by prostitution advertising remains intact.”
Schmidt said taking away tools used by human traffickers is important to combating the growth of sex trafficking.
“The evidence shows that traffickers use these websites to promote their illegal activity,” Schmidt said. “We ask that all online advertising services join our efforts to reduce sex trafficking by enforcing strict but reasonable screening and monitoring policies.”
In 2008, 42 attorneys general reached an agreement with Craigslist to crack down on illegal listings in an effort to reduce crimes like human trafficking. Craigslist ultimately removed its “erotic services” section altogether in May 2009. In September 2010, 21 attorneys general wrote Backpage.com to request that the adult services section be closed.
Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, LLC, is the top provider of “adult services” advertisements. Industry analysts suggest that Village Voice’s stake in adult services advertisements is worth about $22.7 million in annual revenue.