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Human trafficking: McKenna, AG's blast Backpage.com

Backpage.com is under fire for its adult section, which some say promotes human trafficking and sexual exploitation. - Courtesy image
Backpage.com is under fire for its adult section, which some say promotes human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
— image credit: Courtesy image

As awareness about human trafficking has increased, one of the most common themes heard from law enforcement is the fact that human trafficking, especially those areas that deal in the sex trade, has moved from the real world to the virtual world.

One of the easiest and most popular avenues for human trafficking is through websites that have "adult" sections, such as CraigsList, or more recently and notoriously, Backpage.com.

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, along with 48 other attorneys general (AG) from across the country, are taking Backpage.com to task in an attempt to stop the site's influence in the human trafficking world.

Backpage recently balked at the pressure from McKenna and his fellow AG's to take down the site's adult features for the time being, a request that Backpage says it will not obey.

The general counsel for Backpage.com, Liz McDougall, indicated that Backpage would only continue conversations with the AG's if they agree not to request for the adult section of the site to be discontinued, according to McKenna's office.

McKenna and company decided to make this request public, after Backpage tried to downplay its influence in the trafficking world by saying they are an ally in the fight against the detestable trade.

"It's hypocritical for Backpage representatives to tell the public they cooperate with law enforcement when they've been so unresponsive to the chief law enforcement officers of 48 states and three territories," McKenna said. "Now they demand that we take the most effective solution - the removal of the adult services - off the table before they're even willing to cooperate."

McKenna pointed out CNN's Anderson Cooper's recent reporting on Backpage.com illustrated the fact that many of Backpage's so-called "allies" also support the adult services section being discontinued. Added to this, Backpage's claims of law enforcement support were also discredited by Cooper's report.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster re-iterated law enforcement's stern stance toward the activities on Backpage.com's adult pages.

"One reason police are critical of Backpage.com is because too often the victims of prostitution are children," Koster said. "The Attorneys General are committed to finding any solution to prevent the adult services section of Backpage from being used for human trafficking. It is disappointing that Backpage will not make the same commitment, and instead demands that we take possible solutions off the table."

A letter was sent to Backpage in August 2011, asking for details on how it tries to stop the exploitation of minors,. It took until March 2012 for the site to respond. According to McKenna's office, McDougall responded with a terse reply: "If NAAG and its members are interested in cooperation, and will stop instead simply demanding elimination of the adult category, please let me know by March 28, 2012, so that we may determine how to proceed."

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said: "The goal is to protect children from being sold. We are open to any workable solution, but if the only way to do that is to remove all adult services advertisements, then the attorneys general must insist the option remain on the table."

 

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