Overnight, Backpage.com announced the shutdown of its “adult services” section of the classifieds website. This announcement came on the eve of Backpage.com’s executives and general counsel appearing at a hearing today before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) to answer questions about the committee’s report stating that Backpage.com knowingly posted advertisements for the sale of sex trafficked children. Citing statistics from Shared Hope International and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that help demonstrate the scope of child sex trafficking occurring online, Senator Portman explained that the PSI report released this week provides substantial evidence that Backpage.com not only allowed advertisements for sex with children to be posted, but that the company employed “editing practices” that sanitized those advertisements and hid the sex trafficking of children from public view, and potentially from law enforcement.
When Backpage.com executives appeared on Capitol Hill this morning to testify before the subcommittee about the company’s participation in facilitating online sex trafficking, they declined to answer questions, asserting protections under the First and Fifth Amendments. While Backpage.com executives refused to testify, families of trafficking survivors testified and shared the stories of their collective 14 years fighting for their children who were trafficked on Backpage.com. Holding back tears, the parents of child sex trafficking survivors testified about the harm done to their children in an effort to help protect other children being exploited online through websites like Backpage.com. Senator McCaskill stated at today’s hearing, “We now know as a result of our legal battle that they did not turn away ads of children…they just tried to sanitize it…That is the definition of evil.”
Linda Smith, Shared Hope International President and Founder said after attending the hearing, “I was moved by the heartbreaking stories of these families who suffered immense pain as a result of their children being sold on Backpage.com. Their stories make it clear, even though we celebrate the closure of Backpage.com’s adult section, we can’t stop fighting until victims get the legal justice they deserve and Backpage.com can no longer hide behind the Communications Decency Act.”
Today’s events come on the heels of Monday’s US Supreme Court denial of review of victims’ claims in Does v. Backpage.com, and as Backpage.com executives turn their focus to tomorrow’s arraignment on new criminal charges in California.
Shared Hope International has been on the front lines advocating for laws to combat the widespread sex trafficking of children online, particularly through classified sites like Backpage.com. There are many fronts to this battle and Shared Hope remains committed to the victims’ pursuit of justice, as well as preventing further exploitation of children by establishing civil and criminal liability for these crimes.