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Late yesterday, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced that his office had secured an indictment for fourteen individuals suspected of running a human-trafficking ring that trafficked children for sex at locations ranging from Denver to Grand Junction. Although the seventy-page indictment did not mention Backpage.com, Suthers did in subsequent interviews, saying the girls and their services as "escorts" were advertised on the site, which is owned by Village Voice Media, also the parent company of Westword.
After learning of the indictment, Backpage.com -- which has no employees in Denver -- researched Suther's charges, and just issued this statement:
January 31, 2012 Backpage was appalled by the news that criminals in Colorado had so brazenly exploited underaged victims. Backpage commends the efforts of Colorado law enforcement in apprehending, arresting and indicting the perpetrators.
Backpage turned over more than 700 pages of evidence regarding this case to law enforcement in response to a Lakewood Police Department subpoena before the suspects were arrested. We have advised the police today that -- based on information in the police subpoena -- we have determined that the alleged victims were also advertised in 100 different ads on 15 other web sites. We doubt that any of these other sites cooperated with the police as promptly or as thoroughly as Backpage did.
Backpage has been outspoken in its support for efforts to stop such heinous crimes on the Internet by predators who misuse sites such as Facebook, Craigslist, Backpage and other classified and social networking sites.
We continue to invest millions of dollars in human, technological and other resources to detect and report suspected child predators and to help law enforcement apprehend and prosecute them. And we will continue to cooperate with Lakewood police as they investigate and prosecute this case.
However, we respectfully disagree with the idea put forth by Attorney General John Suthers that taking down Internet pages will help to prevent these crimes. Backpage operates a legal business and complies with state and federal laws. Not only were the alleged victims advertised on at least fifteen other web sites, the suspects and the alleged victims all had Facebook pages.
The Attorney General's indictment specifically mentions Facebook three different times, but it does not mention Backpage once. We think it unfair that Backpage is singled out by Mr. Suthers in news-media interviews, given our cooperation with law enforcement and successful record of interdicting such terrible crimes and helping the police rescue the victims. We are disappointed that Mr. Suthers ignored the voluminous adult content that still exists on Craigslist today before making a comment that he hoped Backpage "would do something radical like Craigslist," which took down its Adult Services section in 2010. Had he looked at a recent edition of Craigslist, he would have seen that Craigslist's adult services ads have migrated to other sections of its pages and the trafficking problem persists on Craigslist, as any search for media reports of trafficking crimes linked to Craigslist demonstrates.
This should be ample proof to anyone that taking down Backpage's Adult Section, or the entire site for that matter, would have zero impact on the Internet trafficking problem. The ads would be posted elsewhere, most likely a site that allows anonymous posts and doesn't cooperate with law enforcement.
The Backpage classified service hosts 30 million posts and 100 million images annually in all categories and we do our best to provide a safe, legal environment for our customers to post classified ads. Yet Backpage represents a tiny fraction of the classified ads posted on thousands of web sites every day.
Backpage supports efforts to halt human trafficking and prevent violent crimes from being perpetrated on the Internet, but we think the responsible answer is to employ security strategies that work.
Backpage Adult Services section is well monitored 24/7, nudity is prohibited in our ads, and ads are rejected and reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children if they are suggestive of an underaged person. Backpage posts are not free, nor do we allow posters to be completely anonymous like other sites. We charge $1.00 to post in personals because it holds users accountable and provides useful information for law enforcement.
The bottom line for us is that we address the problem of Internet trafficking with strategies that work to interdict the crimes, not useless strategies that, while they might make good news copy and political rhetoric, don't rescue anyone.
Steve Suskin, Legal Counsel Village Voice Media