Seven top officials of Backpage.com arrested and facing prison time
For years, hundreds of thousands of consensual sex workers used Backpage.com to post advertisements for their services. However, the site was also long accused of promoting non-consensual sex work and child sex trafficking.
Today, seven top officials of the website were arrested on 93 charges, including conspiracy, money laundering and knowingly facilitating prostitution. The indictment was made public days after federal law enforcement seized and shut down all of Backpage’s websites around the world: 943 locations in 97 countries.
Lawmakers and law enforcement have been desperate to take down Backpage for years. They accuse the site of knowingly concealing criminal activity by helping their customers edit their ads to stay within legal limits while still encouraging commercial sex. They allege that if the words weren’t edited out, they could have easily exposed child sex trafficking and prostitution.
The U.S. Justice Department indictment against Backpage’s leaders offers details of 17 alleged victims, including both adults and children as young as 14 years old, who were trafficked on the site. It accuses Backpage of making $500 million in prostitution-related income since its founding in 2004, and of laundering its money through foreign bank accounts.
Although legislators have complained that the site facilitated trafficking, the case against Backpage does not rely on sex trafficking charges. Instead, the charges are prostitution-related, presumably because they’re easier to prosecute. To prove sex trafficking, prosecutors would need to show each ad either involved a minor or featured an adult who was selling sex against his/her own will.
For the countless consensual sex workers who depended on Backpage to earn a living, eliminating the site endangered their safety, their source of income, and their quality of life.
After SESTA, an anti-sex-trafficking bill, passed the Senate, sex workers also lost access to Craigslist personals and several Reddit platforms. SESTA ripped away protections Backpage had relied on to fight criminal charges in the past, and made many other sites fear facing charges in the future.
Because the new bill makes web sites liable for what its users post online, any company that “knowingly assists, facilitates, or supports sex trafficking” can face civil and criminal prosecution. The internet is now witnessing significant, widespread censorship.