One of the world’s largest classified ad websites is being accused of knowingly facilitating prostitution and child sex-trafficking. Backpage.com shutdown the “adult” section of its website this week after the release of a blistering Senate report that alleges it edited adult ads “to conceal the true nature of the underlying transaction.” Meanwhile, Backpage calls itself the victim of censorship.
In 2009, Kubiiki Pride found her missing teenage daughter’s pictures on Backpage, which she described as “one of the most painful experiences” she’s ever had. Pride and her daughter appear in the upcoming child trafficking documentary “I am Jane Doe.”
“She’s still very much broken. She was trafficked for nine months. She was raped. She was physically abused,” Pride said.
Pride said she unsuccessfully sued Backpage, which according to the Senate report, claims is “a mere host of content created by others,” reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.
The site makes its money from users who pay to advertise a range of goods and services. The Senate report not only accuses Backpage of teaching its users how to post clean ads for illegal transactions, but also says the site failed to report illegal underage activity.
Backpage executives plead the fifth during a Senate hearing Tuesday, a day after the release of a scathing report taking aim at the advertising website.
The 53-pages of documents allege that by late 2010, Backpage altered up to 80 percent of their ads before posting them online “by deleting words, phrases, and images indicative of criminality, including child sex trafficking.”
“It was clear they were trying to clean up these ads,” Sen. Claire McCaskill said.
McCaskill is on the Senate committee that conducted the investigation.
“We found the emails where they were saying take out words like ‘cheerleader,’ ‘daddy’s girl,’ ‘teenager,’ ‘amber alert,’” McCaskill said.
“Not only were they changing the content, they were coaching their customers on how to write the ads so that they could avoid being labeled as a child sex trafficker,” she added.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Backpage is the subject of 73 percent of the child trafficking tips they receive.
Dr. Lois Lee is the founder of Children of the Night, a group fighting child sex trafficking.
“This is just so misdirected to a resource that’s really helping law enforcement, helping the children directly,” Lee said. She supports Backpage, which she says has become a tool for law enforcement in catching predators.
“They could call Backpage and get that detailed information of who was running the ad, the credit card information. They’ve been very, very active in law enforcement,” Lee said.
Lee also said Backpage has donated close to $1 million to her organization. In a statement, the site called the Senate investigation an attack on its First Amendment rights. It also said censoring the site will do nothing to change the problem of human trafficking.