“For far too long, Backapge.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike.” — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
On April 6, 2018, the FBI shut down Backpage.com in an attempt to curb human trafficking, prostitution, and child exploitation. What started out as a literal “back page” website for New Times classifieds in 2004 became saturated with adult ads and quickly grew into the world’s #1 online destination for sex trafficking. By 2014, Backpage.com brought in $135 million a year, 90% of which came from users placing ads for sex.
Sex ads were among the few types of listings for which Backpage.com charged users to post. Eventually, investigators discovered that the website purposely obscured ads for child sex trafficking by using a computer program to screen ads for certain terms that indicated underage girls like “lolita,” “young girl” and “amber alert.” The program would remove these terms from ads before posting them. This realization, coupled with a wave of activism on the part of sex trafficking survivors who were sold on Backpage.com pushed Congress to reconsider the provision which protected the site from liability for the ads its users posted.
Introducing Legislation to Halt Online Sex Trafficking
Just days after FBI took control over Backpage.com, the president signed a set of controversial bills into law to make it easier to reduce sex trafficking online. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act hold online platforms accountable for the content their users post, violating the “safe harbor” rule of the internet found in Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects providers and users from being treated as the publisher or speaker of information posted by third-parties.
Advocates for the legislation claim that it will make it more difficult for human traffickers to exploit children because it takes away their top advertising platform. On the contrary, many victims of sex trafficking and sex workers believe that stripping sex workers and traffickers of their most visible way to advertise will force them to resort to underground methods of gaining business that put sex workers and trafficking victims in harm’s way. Sex workers, in particular, relied heavily on sites like Backpage and Craigslist to screen clients before meeting them.
According to proponents of the legislation, the new laws also make it easier for state prosecutors and sex trafficking victims to sue social media networks, advertisers, and other parties who failed to keep sex trafficking materials off their sites.
Fighting Sex Trafficking in West Palm Beach
Authorities are increasingly aware of sex trafficking in Palm Beach County. Human trafficking is a felony offense that may be tried in state and federal court. The consequences are dire for those facing a conviction for a trafficking offense. At The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel, Attorney Brian Gabriel is committed to providing comprehensive criminal defense for those accused of felony sex offenses in West Palm Beach. Contact Mr. Gabriel for a free consultation or call 561-622-5575.