Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Sex trafficking in the post-Backpage era

Compassion | Online prostitution ads have gone down, but the ones that remain have also gone dark
by Charissa Koh
Posted 10/02/19, 04:58 pm

Since the federal government enacted a law to fight sex trafficking online, the predictions of one Oregon congressman who opposed the measure appear to have come true.

“The bill passed today by the House will make it harder to catch bad actors and protect victims by driving this vile crime to shadowy corners of society that are harder for law enforcement to reach,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in February 2018.

Law enforcement officials said online sex trafficking has declined since a major federal crackdown last year, but it also has become harder to catch the bad guys and help victims caught up in the illicit sex trade.

In April 2018, federal law enforcement officials shut down the classified ad site and charged several Backpage executives with money laundering and facilitating prostitution. The site dominated the market for sex ads and was known to promote the trafficking of minors. Days later, President Donald Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). FOSTA-SESTA made websites liable for sex trafficking that happened on their platforms. Sites like Twitter and Craigslist made instant changes to kick off questionable users and content.

A company called that uses artificial intelligence to monitor sex trafficking online reported that one year after the takedown of Backpage in April 2018, advertising sites selling sex drew only 5 percent to 8 percent of the unique visitors Backpage had at its height in 2016. But some of that traffic spread to foreign websites the United States cannot regulate.

“If we spend the time and effort to shut down one website, another one will pop up, and our resources are finite,” Anaheim, Calif., Police Sgt. Juan Reveles told Reuters.

Prostitutes have complained that the law made their work more dangerous because they could not screen clients online. Others protested that the law violated free speech and set a dangerous precedent by making websites police their content.

“The quality of Backpage’s product, from a lack of scam standpoint, was really, really high, and none of these advertising websites have been able to duplicate that level … mostly because they’re not able to make the same kind of money Backpage was able to make,” CEO Rob Spectre said, adding that the newer sites are “decades behind” Backpage in their efficiency and technology.

Still, saw a 58 percent year-over-year decline after the end of Backpage in buyers responding to sex ads. Evaluating last year’s efforts against sex trafficking will take years, but for now, the market remains extremely volatile with no clear successor to Backpage.

Associated Press/Photo by Keith Srakocic Associated Press/Photo by Keith Srakocic Narcotics detective Ben Hill with two bags of medications in Barberton, Ohio, on Sept. 11

Opioid maker settles ahead of trial

Johnson and Johnson announced a settlement Tuesday with two Ohio counties plagued by the opioid epidemic. The $20.4 million deal needs approval from a federal judge, but it would protect the drugmaker from the first federal lawsuit against opioid makers, set to begin later this month. The suit listed Johnson and Johnson as a defendant, along with several other companies, and many looked to the trial to signal how more than 2,600 similar cases pending across the country would turn out. Four other drugmakers also settled ahead of the trial.

In August, a judge in Oklahoma ruled that Johnson and Johnson must pay $572 million for its role in the opioid crisis. The company has appealed that ruling. —C.K.

Associated Press/Photo by Rebecca Blackwell Associated Press/Photo by Rebecca Blackwell Customs and Border Protection agents survey cars entering the United States on the Puerta México international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico.

Immigration policy timeline

WORLD Magazine senior reporter Sophia Lee has compiled a timeline and analysis of the major policy decisions made by the Trump administration in reaction to the ongoing crisis at the U.S. southern border.

“Some of the Trump administration’s policies may have … exacerbated the situation at the border by snowballing a humanitarian dilemma into a crisis and chipping away at the legal framework of our asylum system,” she wrote. “The changes in border policy are so frequent that even immigration lawyers are having trouble keeping up, and many migrants find the current system bewildering.”

Lee, who covers the immigration beat for WORLD, tweeted Tuesday that she created the timeline because things kept changing so quickly, leading to so much confusion “with what’s happening, what’s the impact, and what it means for our country’s future as a nation of immigrants.”

She also noted the controversy surrounding the border issue: “People disagree on policies, and that’s OK. But I hope this is helpful to anyone with an open mind who wants to understand why so many people have concerns about the way this administration is approaching the challenges at the border.” —Mickey McLean

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a reporter for WORLD based in Austin, Texas. Follow Charissa on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

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  • Chrdoc
    Posted: Thu, 10/03/2019 09:43 am

    Thank you Charissa for this update on the impact of Fosta-Sesta. It is true that the number of advertisements for sex trafficking/prostitution has decreased on previously used websites such as Backpage. However, as with so many other Internet-related developments, online advertising and recruiting for commercial sex have migrated to various apps. One common app used is Plenty of Fish. A police chief in Virginia has released a list of 10 dangerous apps that facilitate sex trafficking. A helpful resource for parents is an annual list of dangerous apps released by Educate Empower Kids. 

    Posted: Thu, 10/03/2019 12:46 pm


    Putting the actual information up in a photo is in VERY POOR TASTE. 

    No wonder men have a difficult time staying home and keeping it under wraps, if you know what I mean.

  • JimVC
    Posted: Thu, 10/03/2019 01:41 pm

    Ron Wyden is a senator.

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Thu, 10/03/2019 04:18 pm

    Thank you for pointing out the error. We have corrected it.