ABC2 News followed Baltimore police in April through a prostitution sting at a local hotel that netted seven arrests of men who sought out escorts first on the advertising site BackPage.com.
The men expected a romantic encounter with one or two women, but instead were ambushed by a team of Baltimore police officers who had posted the fake listing on the site hours before.
The report was a follow-up to a story about Maryland's increased attention toward cracking down on sex trafficking.
WATCH | Police trying to stamp out sex trafficking in Baltimore (VIDEO)
Backpage.com is an ad posting website similar to Craiglist. Both sites feature forums and boards like "community," "buy/sell/trade," and "jobs" for example. However, Backpage.com still lists an "adults" section complete with categories like "escorts," "body rubs," "strippers," and more.
We reached out to a spokesperson with the site to answer the following questions: Are you aware that the site is being used to solicit prostitutes? Are you policing who advertises?
Liz McDougall, general counsel for Backpage.com, LCC, issued the following statement in response:
The commercial sexual exploitation of children is an abhorrence in our society. It is appalling as a street crime and it is appalling as an Internet crime. It is also an extremely complex problem, and it must be fought intelligently. Backpage.com is at the forefront of fighting it intelligently online with approximately 80 staff dedicated to operating a 24/7 triple-tier prevention system (including an automated filter and two levels of human review) and an unparalleled law enforcement support system.
In 2010, Craigslist shuttered its "adults services" section under pressure from critics who said the site became a breeding ground for human trafficking.
The aim of stopping the sex trafficking of minors, indeed the trafficking of any human being, is laudable. However, identifying and vilifying a single U.S. website (previously craigslist, now Backpage.com) as the cause of the problem and the key to the solution are ill-founded and unproductive. Unless the Internet is wholly shut down, the end result of this strategy will be that our children are advertised through offshore websites who do not endeavor to prevent such activity, who do not report potential cases of exploitation to law enforcement, who do not expeditiously cooperate with law enforcement to rescue victims and arrest pimps -- and who are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement so they can thumb their noses at U.S. law enforcement requests, even pleas, for evidence to find a child or stop a perpetrator. You can find discussion and examples of this phenomenon in the links below.
- Woman describes how she escaped her pimp and became a victim of human sex trafficking
- Sex Trafficking survivor calls on the community to know the signs
There is no question that, domestically and globally, everyone needs to do more to combat the atrocity of child sexual exploitation. Backpage.com is committed to continuing to aggressively battle this social abomination with law enforcement, with willing anti-trafficking organizations, and with other online service providers. But there is so much more that needs to be discussed and addressed to prevent vulnerable populations from becoming victims of exploitation and to halt trafficking as a lucrative criminal enterprise.
McDougall provided links in an email to the following commentaries to support her statement: