Recently, one of New York’s less than trustworthy and more opinionated newspapers ran an article claiming online sex trafficking hasn’t changed since the federal seizure of Backpage. The article claims an ‘unnamed source’ within the NYPD is saying there has been no slow down since Backpage was shuttered. This newspaper seems to be one of the outlets that believe the ‘consenting adult’ myth, as they quote a john who said prostitution should be legal since gambling and marijuana are legal in some places. The problem with that analogy is weed and casino chips aren’t being repeatedly sold against their will.
However, the article then goes on to not only mention a new website but also links to the new site as well, supposedly the sleazy heir apparent to Backpage. I’m not going to link to the article, the website, or mention the website by name, but the site looks like it’s trying to copy Backpage even right down to the CSS. The ads on this new site seem to be even more blatant than the usually coded ads that appeared on Backpage. This new site also has the usual disclaimer that ads related to human trafficking will not be tolerated, asking ad posters to click on a button that says ‘I agree’. They’re even trying to be more shifty than Backpage was. In my research, I was unable to find any information regarding who owns the new platform. Their social media presence is almost non-existent, however, I was able to find some information that the site does business in Texas, although reports say the website itself is allegedly hosted in Canada.
While the New York tabloids may be decrying online sex trafficking has continued unabated since the closure of Backpage, it’s still too early to really tell. It’s only been less than two months since Backpage was seized so it’s still too early to say it’s business as usual. At its height, Backpage was responsible for 80% of all online sex trafficking in the US by most reports and had the financial backing of a media company. In today’s post-FOSTA world, it will be almost impossible for a website to be as lucrative as Backpage was at its zenith.
The online sex trafficking trade has been severely splintered. While it may continue to exist, it will never be at the level it was when Backpage was running things. This is a good thing despite protests to the contrary, as it causes fewer victims to be trafficked against their will. While the fight against online human trafficking is a constant battle, there will be fewer casualties in the future.
In a previous post, I wondered what Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer’s role was in the Federal seizure of Backpage since his name did not appear on the 93-count indictment against other Backpage heads and employees. Now we know as it has been announced that prior to the seizure of Backpage, Ferrer pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution.
Last week, not March for once, Federal authorities announced that they took Ferrer to three separate states to plead guilty against the various charges against him in Texas, Arizona and California. Ferrer has also agreed to testify against Backpage founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin. In his pleas Ferrer admitted that Backpage was well aware that the ads on its site were used to facilitate prostitution.
“I have long been aware,” Ferrer wrote, “that the great majority of these advertisements are, in fact, advertisements for prostitution services (which are not protected by the First Amendment and which are illegal in 49 states and in much of Nevada).”
Ferrer also admitted that Backpage was used to launder money after the credit card companies stopped accepting payments for Backpage.
“I worked with my co-conspirators to find ways to fool credit card companies into believing that Backpage-associated charges were being incurred on different websites,” as well as route Backpage money through seemingly unrelated entities, and to use companies which processed crypto-currencies.”
This virtually nullifies any kind of ‘free speech’ argument Backpage could possibly present in court.
In exchange for his plea, Ferrer is looking at a maximum of five years in prison and forfeiture of his corporate assets. While I wholeheartedly believe Ferrer should spend way more time in prison than five years, if it gets Lacey and Larkin to spend a considerable amount of time in prison then I’m all for it.
Monday, the 93-count indictment against seven Backpage employees was finally made public. As previously noted, Backpage co-founder Michael Lacey was already known to have been named in the indictment. What we know now is the remaining six people being indicted for various charges related to the Federal seizure of Backpage. One of the expected names to be listed on the indictment was the other co-founder of Backpage, Jim Larkin, and his name is listed second on the indictment. However, there is one name that’s missing from the list of the seven Backpage employees who you would think would be at or near the top of the list.
In case you’re still wondering whose name is not appearing on the list it would be that of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer. However, while not currently under indictment, Ferrer is referenced to several times in the indictment by the initials “C.F.” and not always referred to in the best light. For example, C.F. is said to have rejected an implementation that would admonish Backpage users if they used search terms that would indicate they were looking for a child prostitute. This is the same Carl Ferrer who decided to just ignore a Congressional subpoena in 2015.
This obviously leads to the question, is Carl Ferrer the reason the seizure took place in the first place? The feds could have had a big enough carrot to dangle in front of Ferrer as he was still facing money laundering charges in the state of California. If that’s the case Ferrer should be applauded somewhat for allowing the internet’s largest avenue for human trafficking facilitation to be taken down, but let’s keep in mind that in the past, Ferrer has never had the best of intentions. One also has to wonder if Ferrer may have been granted immunity from prosecution if he turned on his seven cohorts. Although, I would imagine this wouldn’t make him immune to any civil litigation which probably would hurt Ferrer more than any prison sentence.
I’ve been behind in posting stories about the legal battles befalling Backpage, such as the passage of the SESTA/FOSTA bill that would amend section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The legislation is worded so websites that knowingly facilitate human trafficking would be held legally responsible. However, even before SESTA/FOSTA could be signed into law by the President, the Backpage website was seized by State and Federal authorities this past Friday.
Anyone going to Backpage online on Friday was greeted with the Department of Justice’s declaration that Backpage had been seized as part of an enforcement action by not only the FBI but also the US Postal Inspector’s Office and the IRS. It’s the IRS’s involvement that leads me to believe this is finally the last we’ve seen of Backpage. According to Wired Magazine, there has been a 93 count indictment against seven people involved with Backpage where one of the charges is money laundering. I would even hazard a guess that maybe Backpage and its cabal of founders may not have been exactly forthcoming on their taxes. Let’s not forget that this is almost the exact same way the Feds were able to finally take down Al Capone. One of those people charged in the indictment was Backpage co-founder Mike Lacey. I would imagine that indictments for Backapge CEO Carl Ferrer and co-founder Jim Larkin can’t be far behind.
Surprisingly, this is not the first instance of the Feds seizing a website that was involved in the facilitation of human trafficking. Back in 2014, the FBI seized MyRedBook which was a similar site to Backpage but on a much smaller scale. In that case, the site owners were also accused of money laundering among child prostitution charges. That site’s owner was convicted and was forced to relinquish over a million dollars in cash and assets and was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. Since Backpage operated on a much grander scale, I would imagine any potential fines and sentences would dwarf those of MyRedBook.
Since FOSTA/SESTA has yet to be signed into law, its detractors will say that we no longer need the legislation since Backpage was shut down without it. To those I say FOSTA/SESTA is still needed to prevent another website to rise from Backpage’s ashes like Backpage rose from craigslist’s. No woman or child ever deserves to be turned out online like so much property to be sold into sexual slavery over and over again on a constant basis.
And for those who claim to be ‘legitimate’ sex workers who say Backpage made it safer for them to ply their trade, I have a couple of things to say. The first is, any supposed safety that you perceive to have given to you by Backpage is nothing more than a talking point and an illusion. For all your safety, there were a plethora of women who were either raped or killed by men who had their victims delivered to them through Backpage like they were some kind of murder pizza. The second thing is, if you supposedly have the freedom to choose what you’re doing and are not being coerced by any kind of pimp or trafficker like so many have claimed, maybe this is your sign to pursue more legitimate ventures in your life. You know, ones where you don’t have to worry about pimps, violent johns, and other potentiality tragic hazards of the job.
It’s highly debated whether or not a large event like the Super Bowl increases human trafficking and prostitution in the area where it’s held. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. For example, take 33-year-old Justin Beard, of Branson, Missouri. Beard was in Minneapolis in order to work some of the public events leading up to the big game. Police say Beard allegedly tried to purchase two kids off of craigslist for the purpose of sex, or as I call it, child rape.
Beard is said to have responded to a craigslist ad from a father who claimed to be offering his 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son for sex. In exchange, Beard would provide the man with tickets to the events he was working worth $100. Thankfully, the man behind the craigslist ad was actually an undercover investigator.
As I’ve said before, if police are apprehending one guy looking for kids, there are others there who police haven’t caught yet. Human trafficking and child prostitution are real problems that affect all locations and social classes thanks to the worldwide reach of sites like craigslist. Craigslist refuses to moderate their own site and don’t tell me it’s impossible. If Backpage can monitor and edit their ads for illegal content, then craigslist is surely able to at least monitor their site for illegal ads.
Previously, tech giants like Google had opposed the bill fearing it would open them to potential lawsuits even though the amendment to the CDA specifically targets sites that bad-actor websites. Now, The Internet Association, which represents such tech luminaries as Google, Facebook and Twitter, has reversed their opposition to the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.
While it may not have been done out of the goodness of their hearts, but more to try to get Congress off their backs, this is still an important step towards the bill becoming law. Without as many allies, Backpage’s support is now crumbling. We are now several steps closer to seeing protections enabled to prevent girls and women from being trafficked on sites like Backpage and hopefully the successful prosecution of those who have profited way too long from their victims’ suffering.
Recently, the FBI announced the outcome of a nationwide sex trafficking sting operation called Operation Cross Country XI. They were able to rescue 84 juveniles and arrest 120 people involved in sex trafficking. Of course, one of the sites they used during this operation was Backpage.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Operation happened in Denver, Colorado, where agents were able to rescue two sisters, ages 5-years-old and 3-months-old, from someone who was turning them out for money. A ‘friend’ of the girls’ family was offering them for sex (child rape) for $600. I really hope this was the first time this supposed friend was offering these girls out, but somehow I doubt it was.
While it can’t be said for certain those girls were turned out on Backpage, I would hazard that at least a large portion of the other 82 juveniles rescued were. Yet Backpage still continues to do business, still continues to make money off of these victims, and still claims that their role in the national sexual slavery trade of juveniles is their right to free speech. Yet very few in the general population of the country care because they don’t think it’s happening where they live, or to someone they know. That’s just one of the ways they’re wrong. It’s happening across all social classes, locations, and ethnicities, and unless we wake up to the problem and it will only get worse.
For the past two weeks, the news has been filled with stories about Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Details have been made public about his alleged serial behavior of sexual assault and harassment against actresses and other female members of the entertainment industry that according to some reports goes back as far as 1980. The number of women who have spoken out against Weinstein’s behavior has been staggering. This in turn has sparked the Me Too movement where women from all walks of life have come out on social media using the hashtag #MeToo to show they have been sexually assaulted or harassed, and again, the numbers are staggering.
Now I’m not saying that any woman’s sexual assault is more or less traumatic or impactful than any other, however, there are a number of women and girls out there in society who don’t have the freedom or liberty to say they were sexually assaulted too. I’m sure by now you know where I’m going with this. Thanks to websites like Backpage and people like its CEO Carl Ferrer, there are more women and girls than ever being trafficked for the purposes of forced prostitution and sexual slavery.
Many of these victims are forced into this life through either violent means or some form of deception, such as their traffickers posing as talent or modeling agents. Often these victims have no means of communication to the world outside of prostitution and are often raped by their pimps. Then they’re advertised to be raped again for money on sites like Backpage. Meanwhile, it’s the pimps and Backpage itself who make all the money. To make matters even worse, Backpage hides behind the concept of free speech to continue exploiting these victims.
Sadly, Backpage’s victims don’t receive the same kind of media attention as the Weinstein scandal. They have very few voices who are willing to shine a light on their plight and when they do many people ignore them because they either believe the myth of consenting adults or they find the subject to be too depressing to care about.
So while the women who are sharing their stories are brave indeed, let us not forget the victims who can’t speak on their own behalf due to the position of slavery they have been tragically trapped in.
Back in 2012, three women filed a lawsuit against Backpage in the state of Washington. They claimed they were underage when they were forcibly trafficked for sex on the website. Previous lawsuits like this filed against Backpage have failed, however, in 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the lawsuit could proceed.
This story has huge implications when it comes to the future, or lack thereof, of Backpage. The first is that this is obviously an attempt to appease Congress who has been breathing down Backpage’s neck with supposed evidence of criminal activity in the way Backpage edits their ads. The second is that Backpage’s other pending lawsuits against them in the states of Texas, California, and Alabama, may either proceed or be settled as well. These settlements can’t be exactly cheap for Backpage. This could lead to even more lawsuits and more settlements until Backpage is hopefully bankrupt. I could see the triumvirate of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, and founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin paying out millions of dollars in order to avoid any kind of real prison time.
Maybe, just maybe, this is finally the writing on the wall for Backpage.