Online classified ad site Backpage.com has been going through legal turmoil for years, and with good reason — there’s plenty of evidence that the site’s “adult” section has been a haven of sex trafficking, including some advertisements for sexual encounters with minors. All those issues are hitting the company in a big way today: CEO Carl Ferrer and founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin were charged today in California on charges of conspiracy and pimping a minor, reports The New York Times.
Ferrer was arrested Thursday in Texas and is awaiting an extradition hearing to return him to California, while Lacey and Larkin haven’t been apprehended just yet. The affidavit for the warrant claims that the defendants “have known that their website is the United States hub for the illegal sex trade and that many of the people advertised for commercial sex on Backpage are victims of sex trafficking, including children.” The charges come after a three-year joint investigation between Texas and California.
Earlier this year, a congressional investigation found that Backpage would edit some of its classified ads to disguise the fact they were selling the services of minors. The US Senate issued subpoenas for documents relating to how the company screens its ads, a request that went unfulfilled. The Senate then held the company in contempt in an effort to force a response to its subpoenas. Ferrer himself was subpoenaed about a year ago, but didn’t show up.
It sounds like the case against Ferrer and the company’s co-founders is pretty strong — documents filed included interviews with children who were forced to take out ads on Backpage. One 15-year-old girl said she was forced into prostitution at the age of 13 and that the company has been profiting from prostitution for years. “I mean really, coming from someone my age, there is too much access, like it’s too easy for people get on it and post an ad,” the unnamed minor said. It’ll likely be a while before these cases are seen through to a conclusion, but these arrests are an important step towards shutting down a site that appears to be engaged in seriously unsavory activity.
Source: The New York Times