Federal law enforcement officials took down Backpage.com and its affiliated websites just days before President Donald Trump signed a law closing legal loopholes that protected sites that host sex trafficking ads.
A notice posted Friday afternoon on the Backpage site read, “Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized.” The seizure was part of an enforcement action by the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the IRS. FBI agents also raided the home of the site’s founder, Michael Lacey, and charged him and other Backpage executives with facilitating prostitution and money laundering.
Backpage, which earned 90 percent of its income from sex ads, saw its profits increase from $5.3 million in 2008 to $135 million in 2014, according to a U.S. Senate report released last year. Analysts believe much of that revenue came from the sale of children for sex. Backpage hosted ads using code words like “fresh” or “Amber Alert” to indicate the involvement of minors. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has identified 420 cases of missing children trafficked on Backpage and an additional 3,000 unconfirmed cases in California alone.
Though the seizure and arrests at Backpage preceded Trump’s signing of the law on Wednesday, supporters of the measure say it will have a positive effect on the fight against online sex trafficking in the future.
“This new anti-trafficking law is another victory that will empower survivors to have a pathway to justice, and will ensure traffickers can no longer be protected by safe havens or legal loopholes,” the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, tweeted Wednesday. —Gaye Clark