Backpage.com has shut down its online adult-services ads after relentless pressure from authorities, an action viewed as a victory by a lawmaker who has worked to curb human trafficking.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the announcement was “long overdue” after executives of the website refused to testify before Congress Tuesday following a Senate report accusing the site of facilitating sex trafficking.
“Websites like Backpage.com facilitate sex trafficking across Minnesota and our country,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Backpage.com’s announcement that it will be shutting down its adult-services section is long overdue, but another positive step forward in our fight against human trafficking.”
Klobuchar, who spoke on human trafficking at the Democratic National Convention, co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that was signed into law in May.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was modeled after Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law, which gives incentives for all states to have a safe harbor provision to help ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants but are instead treated as victims.
The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report Monday charging that Backpage has created a lucrative marketplace that makes child sex trafficking easier, according to the Associated Press.
The report cites internal documents showing that up to 80 percent of the site’s ads are edited to conceal the true nature of the underlying transaction.
Backpage has denied the allegations, and the site shuttered its “adult” section in the U.S. Monday night to protest what it calls government censorship.
“For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed, but new government tactics, including pressuring credit card companies to cease doing business with Backpage, have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content in the United States,” Backpage said in a statement released Monday.
Backpage, which operates like Craigslist, has maintained that its adult ads have become a resource for law enforcement agencies investigating human trafficking.
The FBI has identified the Twin Cities as one of 13 U.S. metropolitan communities with a high incidence of human trafficking and child prostitution. And in Minnesota, several trafficking cases have been linked to the website.
An operation involving the website led to 48 arrests around New Ulm and Mankato. And in October, the U.S. attorney’s office announced indictments in a massive international sex trafficking ring involving several Minnesotans. The alleged traffickers used Backpage.com to advertise the victims.