At least 495 victims of child sex trafficking in 46 states and D.C. have been linked to the online classified site Backpage.com, Shared Hope International says, a week after Visa, MasterCard, and American Express announced they will no longer be a payment option on the site.
Backpage.com has been at the center of national advocacy efforts for years, with thousands calling on the site to shut down its adult entertainment section, says the Vancouver, Canada-based anti-trafficking group, even as D.C. police, with the help of the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force, on Friday uncovered several advertisements related to sex trafficking of children placed on Backpage.com, according to The Washington Post.
Also this week, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey called on Backpage.com to shut down its adult entertainment section after 28-year-old Daniel Tejeda was indicted in the strangulation of 24-year-old Ashley Masi, whom he met through an ad on Backpage.com.
A study by YouthSpark in Atlanta, Georgia, has found that 53 percent of children receiving care from service providers across the country were bought and sold for sex on Backpage.com, says Shared Hope International in the statement.
The site continues to operate "by hiding behind unintentional protections granted under the First Amendment and the CDA," the statement adds.
Laws, as of now, cannot sufficiently deal with sites like Backpage.com.
As many as 47 state attorneys general and the National Association of Attorneys General have endorsed and sent a letter to Congress advocating to amend the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to remove the barrier to state prosecution of online businesses in violation of trafficking and prostitution offenses, the group says.
"Backpage.com has one evident motive — revenue," the group's founding president, Linda Smith, said. "Regardless of their intent, Backpage.com's woeful supervision of the content of their site has enabled child sex trafficking. If lawsuits, legislation, letters, petitions, and now a murder won't sway them to close down the adult services section, perhaps a hit in the pocketbook will."
Now with the credit card companies having withdrawn at the request of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Backpage.com will be badly hit in terms of its revenue, the group hopes.
The site makes $9 million a month from the adult entertainment ads alone. But it has now temporarily allowed free basic ad posting with Bitcoin as the only option for payment for anyone who wants to upgrade an ad.
"While free ads may trigger an immediate spike in new advertisements, the strategy could yield a long-term win for advocates if the company cannot identify an equally convenient alternative payment option," the anti-trafficking group says.