The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 73 percent of all its child trafficking report stem from Backpage.In Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Thomas Dart waged a public campaign against Backpage in 2015, posting a letter to credit-card companies asking they stop accepting financial transactions from the site.Now, Backpage visitors who click on the “escorts,” “strippers” and “body rubs” portions of the website are greeted by a page with a blaring red headline that reads, “Censored.” “The government has unconstitutionally censored this content,” the notice reads, directing users to several organizations, including one dedicated to rescuing kids from prostitution.It also says, “Protect internet free speech.” Classified websites such as Backpage and Craigslist, which allow users to hawk everything from real estate to used cars, have long been targeted by police for facilitating the sex trade.State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle dismissed Backpage’s widely publicized closing of its adult section closing as nothing more than a “shell game.” “They’ve all moved to the dating section,” Fernandez Rundle said.“The same victims are being found there.” Earlier this month, on the heels of a U. Senate report that blasted the site for facilitating criminal activity, Backpage shut down the adult content portion of its website.The Senate investigation concluded that Backpage knowingly profited from prostitution and the sexual trafficking of minors, increasing its revenue from .3 million in 2008 to 5 million in 2014.The Senate investigation found the website edited out phrases such as “Lolita” and “Amber Alert” from ads, code words for minors that might attract law-enforcement attention.
But Dallas-based Backpage, founded in 2004 as an off-shoot of classified sections for alternative weekly newspapers, remains one of the most popular websites for hooking up prostitutes with johns, according to law enforcement.
The world’s oldest profession continues to openly ply its trade in South Florida and elsewhere.
And while the site’s founders face criminal charges in California, there’s also a debate emerging in the law enforcement community over whether the legal crackdown is the smart way to root out the site’s worst users.
That’s what landed Michael Chamah behind bars for pimping a 16-year-old runaway on South Beach in 2013.
Subpoenas revealed that someone posted the ads for the girl using a pre-paid Visa card.