This week in Olympia, Washington 45 state Attorneys General have called on the Village Voice Media-owned backpage.com to prove if and how they are monitoring the site for illegal activity, specifically the trafficking of children. The AGs also said that “they are asking the company to willingly provide information in lieu of a subpoena.” That basically translates to start making real changes or we’ll do to you what we did to craigslist.
I await VVM’s response with bated breath. I’ll get a mint for that later though.
Also, keep an eye on this post for the next couple of days for more news out of the AGs.
Thanks to Seymore for the tip.
According to this article dated 8/31/2011…
Carl Ferrer, a spokesman for Backpage owner Village Voice Media, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
That’s a shock. They’ll probably unleash their responses through a series of snarky editorials saying that child prostitution is a freedom of speech issue.
This is a great article about Washington Attorney General Mike McKenna who spearheaded this latest campaign against Backpage.
I urge you to read the entire article but let me hit you with some quotes.
The first about Backpage itself…
“We believe Backpage.com sets a minimal bar for content review in an effort to temper public condemnation, while ensuring that the revenue spigot provided by prostitution advertising remains intact,”
And about prostitution in general…
“People look at prostitution and think it’s a choice, but there are very few, if any, volunteers,” he said. “The more we learn about sex trafficking, the more we believe it is dominated by individuals exploiting both children and adults.”
He’s 100% right even though a lot of you would deny it just so you can pay to get your jollies.
Also in the article, it states that the AGs have given VVM a September 14th deadline to respond.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is one of the AGs involved in this movement. She says that she signed off on the letter to Backpage because of an incident where a Mass. man held a 15-year-old girl captive and sold her as a sex slave on Backpage. You can read about that here.
Also, an attorney for Backpage by the name of Samuel Fifer has said this about the AGs’ letter…
“we have received the letter, are looking at it carefully and are working diligently on a response.”
Again see my comment above about snarky editorials.
Kansas AG Derek Schmidt is also one of the AGs involved and he had this to say about Backpage…
“The evidence shows that traffickers use these websites to promote their illegal activity,” Schmidt said in a statement from his office. “We ask that all online advertising services join our efforts to reduce sex trafficking by enforcing strict but reasonable screening and monitoring policies.”
I wish Mr. Schmidt wasn’t so almost non-committal to the cause. In my opinion, it would have been better if he said that he wishes online advertising would eliminate trafficking ads altogether.
Florida AG Pam Biondi, in case you couldn’t tell…
“Human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery, exploits people and strips them of their dignity,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “We must collaborate with federal, state and local authorities and other organizations to combat this growing problem.”
Attorney General Bondi added that kids aren’t capable, legally or otherwise, to consent to be sold for sex. And regardless of a prostitute’s
age, it’s difficult to know whether the person advertised is being coerced.
Iowa AG Tom Miller…
To back up their allegations, Miller says more than 50 cases in 22 states involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors were traced back to the website.
I think it’s more than that but I’ve lost count. He continues…
Miller and the others signing the letter want the website to “..do the right thing and pull its ‘adult services’ site.” and to better police ads placed on the site.
At least AG Miller is saying what really needs to be done.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, which may be the best name an AG ever had…
He said the only way to prevent the illegal activity from taking place is to shut the site down.
Another AG who tells it like it is.
Add Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt to the list as well. No quote from him just yet.
Alaska AG John Burns. No quote from him but Deputy AG Richard Svobodny said that the only real way for Backpage stop child trafficking would be to get rid of the adult section of their site.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley…
Jackley says many attorneys general worry Backpage.com is trying to minimize the impact of child sex trafficking and shift attention away from the company’s profitable advertising business.
Translation: Backpage is trying to deflect blame from itself.
Missouri AG Chris Koster is in as well. He was also a big proponent of craigslist shutting down adult services as well.
From Maine’s Attorney General William Schneider…
“Children are being forced into prostitution and those traffickers are being given a tool to make this deplorable crime even easier.” Schneider said in a statement Thursday. “We urge backpage.com to stop child sex trafficking on the site by completely removing all adult service advertisements.”
Another man with conviction.
Montana AG Steve Bullock joins the fray as well. Another great name for an AG. No quote from Mr. Bullock but a good one from the article…
Sure enough, a visit to Backpage.com shows “Sexy lil secret” based in the Great Falls area. “Call for booking 24/7, here to cater to ALL your needs that only you deserve!” reads the ad, which is located in the adult escort section, under “Montana.”
I’m sure that’s nothing illegal.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler…
In a statement, Gansler said traffickers who exploit runaways and other disadvantaged children shouldn’t be provided with a tool that makes “peddling flesh so much easier.”
“Backpage is basically facilitating the supply and demand for child exploitation and prostitution,” Gansler said Thursday. “They’re facilitating crimes and they’re not going to be able to continue to do that. The state has the law on its side. This isn’t a free speech issue, it’s illegal activity.”
Emphasis mine. And he’s right you know.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is NOT one of the AGs who signed the letter but it doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of what’s going on with Backpage…
When asked why he declined to sign the letter from the attorneys general, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who has focused on fighting Internet crime against children, issued a statement to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism saying he has “a policy of not publicly announcing the details of ongoing investigations or publicly negotiating private sector cooperation.”
Illegal activity has occurred on Backpage.com and other websites, Van Hollen said.
Van Hollen encouraged all websites to cooperate with law enforcement to prevent their sites from being “conduits for illegal activity.”
Wyoming AG Greg Phillips…
“There are a whole lot of minors being exploited,” Phillips said.
Short, sweet and to the point.
I think you get the idea. And these are only a handful of the AGs that signed the letter.