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U.S. Senators Kirk, Blumenthal, Rubio and Begich Call on Village Voice Media to Block Child Prostitution and Take Down "Adult Services" Ads from Backpage.com  

Law enforcement implores Backpage, the leading U.S. website for prostitution advertising, to protect children

Friday, Mar 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Begich (D-AK), along with 15 other U.S. Senators, wrote to the Chairman and CEO of Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC, the company that operates Backpage.com, demanding the elimination of the adult services section on the classified advertising website. 

 

On Sunday, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times ran "Where Pimps Peddle Their Goods."  Kristof interviewed a 17-year-old who was commonly sold on Backpage and wrote, "After Alissa testified against her pimps, six of them went to prison for up to 25 years. Yet these days, she reserves her greatest anger not at pimps but at companies that enable them. She is particularly scathing about Backpage.com, a classified advertising website that is used to sell auto parts, furniture, boats — and girls. Alissa says pimps routinely peddled her on Backpage."

 

Backpage.com is the leading U.S. website for prostitution advertising. Recent reports from the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) found more than 50 instances nationwide of charges filed against people trafficking minors on Backpage.com. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 40 percent of incidents investigated by federally funded task forces on human trafficking between 2008 and 2012 involved sexual exploitation of a child. Similar classified advertising websites, such as Craigslist.com, have taken down their adult services ads after being petitioned to eliminate the section. Backpage continues to ignore the evidence, putting profit above children's safety. 

 

The lawmakers join 51 Attorneys General and more than 90,000 Americans who signed a petition in urging Backpage.com to remove the adult services section.

 

"Nothing should stop us from protecting victims of child prostitution and trafficking," said a spokesperson for Senator Kirk. "The ‘profit first’ mentality at Backpage and their parent company, Village Voice Media, continue to prioritize the rights of pimps, not kids.  Citizens are disgusted to learn how often children are being used as prostitutes in their own backyard and we will not rest until children are no longer victimized by this website.”

 

"Backpage should immediately shut down the adult services section of its website, and end its enabling of prostitution and human trafficking, just as Craigslist did at my urging," said Senator Blumenthal.  "For too long, countless girls have been victims of prostitution, human trafficking, and horrendous violence through Backpage.com ads. Unconscionably, Backpage continues to allow adult services advertising on their website, knowing that these advertisements are an avenue for horrific violence against women and children."

 

“Sex trafficking is a horrendous practice that must be stopped in our own communities and around the world," said Senator Rubio. "Backpage.com and its parent company Village Voice Media are making money off the sexual exploitation of children through sex trafficking. We simply can’t continue to turn a blind eye to this practice.” 

 

Senator Begich said, “If closing down Backpage, which accounts for 70% prostitution advertising, can save hundreds of girls, there is no reason not to call for its swift demise immediately.  It may not end the violent and horrific practice of trafficking entirely, but it is a positive and necessary step forward in keeping young people safe from the victimization and abuse of prostitution.”

 

The NAAG letter to Backpage can be found here.

 

"Today's powerful message from distinguished members of the United States Senate again demonstrates that Americans, regardless of political party or religious preference, find common cause in the fight against human trafficking," said Washington State Attorney General, president of the National Association of Attorneys General. "A company that is profiting from the sale of human beings--including minors--and that is leveraging a once-respectable media operation in defense of that business, finds itself in conflict with a compassionate nation. We hope Village Voice changes course and finally does the right thing."  Washington State Attorney General McKenna's speech on Backpage to the NAAG can be found here

 

The full text of the Senate letter to Backpage is below: 

 

Mr. Jim Larkin

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer 

Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC

1201 E. Jefferson St.

Phoenix, AZ 85034

 

Dear Mr. Larkin: 

 

Our founding fathers guaranteed the freedom of expression in the United States Constitution, and as U.S. Senators, we work hard to defend this fundamental American value. However, the First Amendment has clear limitations – it does not extend to child pornography and it does not extend to the sexual exploitation of minors on the Internet. 

 

Experts estimate that 300,000 children are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States, and that girls and boys are forced into prostitution at the average ages of 12 to 14 and 11 to 13, respectively. A chilling report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 40 percent of incidents investigated by federally funded task forces on human trafficking between 2008 and 2010 involved the sexual exploitation of a child. Unfortunately, these numbers only continue to rise. 

 

We believe, as the leading U.S. website for prostitution advertising, Backpage.com can create a significant impact on this appalling industry by shutting off a major source of advertising for these practices – the adult services section of the website. 

 

We are greatly alarmed by the increasing news reports of pimps and traffickers using Backpage.com to advertise sexual services by minors. The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) found more than 50 instances nationwide of charges filed against people trafficking or attempting to traffic minors on Backpage.com. Recent child prostitution cases involving Backpage.com include:

 

  • Myrelle and Tyrelle Lockett, pled guilty to trafficking of persons for forced labor or services in February 2011 for prostituting multiple Chicago area girls, including at least one who was underage. The girls were advertised on Backpage.com with rates as high as $300 per hour.
  • Kendel Morell, charged with human trafficking, rape and sexual exploitation of a child in October 2011 for forcing a 17-year-old Albuquerque girl into prostitution on Backpage.com.
  • Demetrius Darnell Homer, convicted of sex trafficking of a minor and sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2011 for violently forcing a 14-year-old Atlanta girl into prostitution and posting her services on Backpage.com. Homer kept the girl in line through beatings, threatening her with a knife, and on one occasion, shocking her with a taser in front of another underage girl he had placed in prostitution. Homer even forced the girl to engage in prostitution while she was pregnant with his child.  
  • Akmal S. Karon, a Minnesota man, charged with eight counts of child prostitution for pimping two underage girls and keeping them in line using rape and extreme violence. One girl, who first began working as a prostitute for Karon at 15, told police that Karon raped her, punched her in the face, repeatedly kicked her, burned her hand with a cigar, and once hit her in the head with a Snapple bottle when she did not earn enough money. Karon picked up the other girl outside her home just a few days before her 14th birthday. He raped and beat her the following day at a motel, and then held her captive for over a week, forcing her to work for him as a prostitute. Karon advertised both girls on Backpage.com.

We understand your company continues to ensure the public that employees are working closely to monitor the website, claiming to remove 400 ads that market the sexual exploitation of minors every month through a manual review process. But according to field experts and law enforcement authorities, these actions pale in comparison to the illegal activity facilitated via the website. NAAG maintains that the number of postings for prostitution services has not appeared to decrease since the issue was first raised with Village Voice Media. It took only minutes on Backpage.com’s adult services section for us to find posts that present clear advertisements for prostitution of young girls. 

 

It is clear from the increasing child trafficking cases linked to the website that the company is unable or unwilling to keep up with the sheer volume of these ads that garner an annual estimated profit of $24 million. There is only one option to keep our children safe from exploitation on your advertising network – shut down the adult services section of Backpage.com. 

 

We echo the sentiments of 51 Attorneys General, dozens of human rights and sexual assault organizations, The Seattle Times, faith leaders, and more than 90,000 Americans who signed a petition on this issue, and urge you in the strongest terms possible to follow Craigslist and remove the adult services section from Backpage.com. 

 

We look forward to your swift response.

 

Sincerely, 

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