op-ed

It Is Time To Shut Down Backpage And All The Websites That Promote Human Trafficking

Conchita Sarnoff Executive Director, Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking
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Backpage is at it again. In spite of Backpage founder Carl Ferrer’s October 2016 arrest in Houston, Texas, his classified ads website continues to sell online ads promoting sex with minors, according to a January 27 Los Angeles Times story. Ferrer was arrested, in 2016. He was charged with pimping a minor, pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping.

Mr. Ferrer was charged alongside two business partners and controlling shareholders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin.

Messrs. Lacey and Larkin are former owners of The Village Voice and Phoenix New Times. Both men were charged with conspiracy to commit pimping.

In 2017, despite the overwhelming evidence of their ads selling sex with minors, all three men were acquitted of pimping and other felony charges. Ferrer’s case was dismissed. His partners, Lacey and Larkin however, are being “prosecuted on money laundering charges for profiting from online classified-ads that facilitate prostitution.” The charges against Messrs. Larkin and Lacey were filed December 2016 by California Senator Kamala Harris, the California Attorney General at the time of the arrests.

In light of the original Judge’s decision to exonerate the case, former Attorney General Harris, “Amended the original charges and filed slightly modified charges in another court.” On August 2016, Judge Lawrence G. Brown said the three (Backpage leaders), “Are being charged with investing money in [an] underlying criminal scheme, [and] or conducting transactions with profits from the scheme.” California’s current Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, is now asking state prosecutors to “Show specifically how Backpage profits [were made] solely from the facilitation of prostitution and sex trafficking.”

The Backpage case is significant in a number of ways. First, a Backpage shutdown will help protect and prevent future pimps and human traffickers from advertising online to sell children and women for sex, pornography and other heinous crimes. Secondly, the shutdown will serve as a warning to other advertisers such as: Google Search, Facebook, Twitter and many third-party content sites, that selling sex online, especially sex with children and high risk populations, is illegal and intolerable.

Lastly, the shutdown will support the federal law, Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) enacted in 2000, under President Clinton’s administration. It will reinforce TVPA in every state and set precedent within the online community. It is up to the District Attorney in each stae to ensure enforcement and prosecute human traffickers to the full extent of the law. It is also up to the District Attorney to prosecute a case.

Websites such as Backpage, Craigslist and others including the company executives who operate and openly promote, advertise and sell sex by minors and at risk adults should be held accountable. They should also be held legally responsible and assume full liability for the trafficking of humans. There are three functions in every government essential to the wellbeing and security of its citizens including the underage citizens: Prevention, Protection and Prosecution. These 3 pillars are the essence of our government and TVPA. Without these fundamental safeguards our nation, the American institutions that uphold our laws and Civil Society cannot function and operate effectively.

Which brings me to the First Amendment. In 1789, when James Madison penned the First Amendment his great mentor, Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and Madison did not foresee the technological revolution of the 20th century. I doubt Mr. Madison also foresaw that two hundred plus years later, the United States’ legal system would find a way to interpret and manipulate the First Amendment to protect criminals selling children and adults for sex on a website.

It was evident in 1789, as it is evident in 2018, that the purpose and objective of The First Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, was to protect the citizens of this great nation — not the criminals.

Neither the First Amendment nor any other part of the Constitution protect are criminality, criminal enterprises or the selling and buying of children and adults for sex.

Fast forward to last week. When the Los Angeles Times posted the story about a group of men in San Diego, California who spend a few nights each month taking phone calls from sex buyers.

The all-male anti-trafficking advocates who answer callers looking for sex, hope to accomplish two goals: One, educate mostly male callers about sex trafficking and the exploitation of women and children. Two, convince pedophiles and buyers of online sex ads to stop answering ads and help stop sex trafficking and the victimization of children and women.

It’s a tough and long road ahead for these men. The advocate’s job is never easy. During one particular encounter last Friday night, a sex caller wanted to rendezvous with a half-naked woman. What he heard instead was an “earful from a man on the other end of the line,” explaining that, “most women who advertised for sex were victims of human trafficking, and many were underage.” Taken aback, the caller asked for “Mark.” He said, “I think I have the wrong number.” The advocate said, “Dude, I know you’re not calling for Mark. I think you need to stay off Backpage.”

It is time to shut down Backpage and all the websites that promote human trafficking. It is also time to detain all the responsible parties and hold them accountable for the proliferation of child sex trafficking in the United States.

Conchita Sarnoff is the executive director of the Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.