FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2011
For More Information, contact:
Joy Patterson (334) 242-7491
Alabama Attorney General
Suzanne Webb (334) 242-7351
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Attorneys General to Backpage.com: Prove You Are Fighting Human
(Montgomery) – Attorney General Luther Strange and 44 other attorneys general
today called for information about how Backpage.com presumably attempts to remove
advertising for sex trafficking, especially ads that could involve minors.
In a letter to the online classified site’s lawyers, the attorneys general say that
Backpage.com claims it has strict policies to prevent illegal activity. Yet hundreds of
ads found on Backpage.com’s regional site are clearly for illegal services.
“It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements
are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote.
The letter says the hub for illegal sex ads 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.
“These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely
exist,” the attorneys general wrote. They also reminded Backpage.com of a 2010
request from nearly two dozen attorneys general asking that the adult services site be
“Traffickers who exploit runaways and other disadvantaged kids shouldn’t be
provided with a tool that makes that process so much easier,” Strange said. “The only
way for Backpage.com to completely stop child sex trafficking on its site is to take
down adult services advertisements altogether and take aggressive steps to be sure
such posts don’t appear elsewhere on the site.”
AG Strange added that kids aren’t capable, legally or otherwise, to consent to be
sold for sex. And regardless of a prostitute’s age, it’s difficult to know whether the
person advertised is being coerced.
Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, LLC, is the top provider of “adult
services” advertisements. The multimedia company, which owns 13 weekly
newspapers in the United States admits its involvement in advertising illegal services.
In a meeting with staff at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Village Voice
board member Don Moon readily acknowledged prostitution ads appear on the Web
site. And in a June 29 article published nationally by the Village Voice, the corporation
criticized those concerned about child sex trafficking as “prohibitionists bent on
ending the world’s oldest profession,” acknowledging that, as a seller of adults services
ads, “Village Voice has a stake in this story.”Industry analysts suggest that Village
Voice’s stake in adult services advertisements is worth about $22.7 million in annual
501 Washington Avenue * Montgomery, AL 36104 * (334) 242-7300
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Many state attorneys general believe that Backpage.com is attempting to
minimize the impact of child sex trafficking because they fear it will turn attention to
the company’s robust prostitution advertising business. While Backpage.com has
ramped up its effort to screen some ads for minors, the attorneys general involved in
today’s letter believe 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.”
The letter from attorneys general makes a series of requests to Backpage.com,
asking that the company willingly provide information in lieu of a subpoena. For
example, in order to substantiate the claim that the company enforces policies to
prevent illegal activity, the attorneys general ask that Backpage.com describe in detail
its understanding of what precisely constitutes “illegal activity,” and whether
advertisements for prostitution fall into that category. The attorneys general also ask,
among other requests, how many advertisements in its adult section and subsections
have been submitted since Sept. 1, 2010, how many of those advertisements were
individually screened, how many were rejected and how many were removed after
being discovered to be for illegal services.
In 2008, 42 attorneys general in 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.
The states signing on to today’s letter are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas,
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois,
Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Mississippi, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New
Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington,
Wyoming and the territory of Guam.