The feds have been cracking down on websites that cater to prostitution, with them most recently banning Backpage, the classified ad service long derided as the go-to hub for human trafficking, particularly in South Florida.
The FBI has indicted the website’s founders and employees, alleging the company raked in tens of millions while knowingly facilitating the prostitution of minors.
Critics say the site’s shutdown may make work more dangerous for women in Florida’s ever-thriving sex industry — and will push the business to murkier parts of the internet, complicating the job of local police officers who regularly scoured Backpage to find trafficking victims.
Backpage’s seizure follows the passage of a new federal law targeting websites that post escort ads, leading an array of sex-industry websites to close or restrict usage. That includes the popular mainstream classifieds website Craigslist, which shut down the personal ads, where many prostitutes advertised in coded language.
Backpage was started in 2004 by Michael Lacey and James Larkin, former owners of the Village Voice and the Phoenix New Times. The company was based in Dallas, although its bank accounts and computer servers are in Arizona, authorities say.
The website offered free or low-cost classified ads for people renting rooms, selling cars or peddling used furniture. But it quickly became known as the most popular place for buying sex, with prostitutes buying cheap, frequent ads in cities across the world.
For some sex workers, the advent of sites such as Backpage and Craigslist cut out the dangerous pimps who took their money and forced them to work on dangerous streets, and allowed them to better screen clients.
In Miami-Dade, posts on Backpage have resulted in many high-profile human trafficking cases. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 74 percent of all its child-trafficking report last year was generated from Backpage.
The State Attorney’s Human Trafficking Unit and local police have used Backpage as a chief tool, leading to scores of arrests in recent years. Just over half of adult victims in recent Miami-Dade cases, and 40 percent of minor victims, were advertised on Backpage.com, according to prosecutors.
Before being shut down, Backpage ads usually went hand in hand with prostitution or sex trafficking charges. Many South Florida prostitution cases start with a false ad set up by the police, followed by an unsuspecting individual answering that ad. The sting starts with an informant posing as a sex worker and arranging a secure meeting locations. It usually ends when that unsuspecting person arrives to the designated meeting spot and is then charged with prostitution.
Backpage has been referred as “the world’s top online brothel” because once Craigslist stopped advertising erotic services, Backpage took over. Shutting down Backpage was done with the hopes of eliminating sex trafficking, but it appears that most of the ads on Backpage likely come from consenting prostitutes. This could have opened a whole new can of worms, and could lead to more sex trafficking cases falling under the fed’s radar.
If you have been charged with a prostitution or sex trafficking-related crime, our South Florida Sex Crimes Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to help. Call us today at 561-367-8777 or contact us online for a free consultation. We can begin helping with your charges right away, so do not delay in seeking our legal help.
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