The classified advertising website Backpage.com has been seized by federal law enforcement authorities, and a notice posted on the site says all affiliated websites have also been seized, an action that is "an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking."
The notice says the department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section is among the agencies "participating in and supporting action," apart from the FBI and the law enforcement wings of the U.S. Postal Service and the Internal Revenue Service.
Local media in Sedona, Arizona reported that the home of Backpage founder Michael Lacey was also raided by the FBI on Friday.
Sex ads posted on the site have included those involving children being trafficked by adults.
It's "an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking," Sen. John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, said in a statement, according to The New York Times. "This builds on the historic effort in Congress to reform the law that for too long has protected websites like Backpage from being held liable for enabling the sale of young women and children."
Backpage founders Lacey and Jim Larkin claim that the Communications Decency Act protects their site, but Congress last month passed the FOSTA SESTA — Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act-Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act — bill, which President Donald Trump is expected to sign into law soon.
The bill would provide sex trafficking survivors and state prosecutors the legal means to take civil and criminal actions against websites like Backpage that have knowingly allowed for the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children to occur while raking in millions in profit.
"Together, and with the support of trafficking advocates, prosecutors, and law enforcement across the country, the 115th Congress has passed legislation that will give survivors the long-overdue justice they deserve and ensure that fewer victims are ever sold online in the first place," Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., said in a statement to The Christian Post after the passing of the bill. "FOSTA will finally give local, state, and federal prosecutors the tools they need to put predators behind bars. Congress does not believe — and did not ever believe — that sex trafficking is a prerequisite of the free and open internet. I look forward to President Trump signing FOSTA into law."
Senate subpoenas revealed that Backpage executives were complicit in the enabling of traffickers, including some of whom went so far as to coach them on how to avoid criminal charges through editing out words like "cheerleader," "little girl," and "school girl," from their online ads.
"It is difficult to quantify the magnitude of this victory for victims of online sex trafficking. Passing FOSTA-SESTA was the only adequate legislative solution to the incredible injustices they have suffered. Survivors of sex trafficking spoke, and the Senate listened," said Lisa L. Thompson, vice president of policy and research at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, in a statement emailed to CP after the bill's passage.