Operators of the controversial classified website Backpage.com have shut down the adult section of their website.
The shutdown comes after a Senate committee released a scathing report that finds evidence the site facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking, essentially profiting off it as part of its $135 million per year dealings.
Bay area police tell 10News that getting rid of the adult ads will help make the community safer.
And we've heard the horror stories from Tampa Bay sex trafficking victims.
“This man has taken innocent women and made them his sex slave. That shouldn’t have to happen to any woman,” says a victim of convicted sex trafficker Robert Wyche.
We've seen the arrests and convictions of men busted soliciting kids and women on Backpage.
The Senate panel found that the site has actually been cleaning up its user ads by deleting words, phrases and pictures that could be considered criminal, then profiting off victims.
“Scrubbing these ads and sanitizing them from reference to kids, that gets us way out of the frame of the freedom of speech issue and internet freedoms issue, and gets us much more into the frame of a criminal behavior,” says Polaris CEO Bradly Myles. The organization runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Myles says shutting down the Backpage adult services section is a step to help protect victims.
“We were very encouraged that the central hub, where so many traffickers were posting kids for sale and women against their will for sale, finally is changing,” says Myles.
The abrupt closure by Backpage happened on the night before the CEO was set to testify before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
The adult section on the site now says “Censored”.
A statement on Backpage says in part, “As the direct result of unconstitutional government censorship, Backpage.com has removed its Adult content section from the highly popular classified website, effective immediately. 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 insists the shutdown won't stop human trafficking or end the fight for their online freedom of speech.
“Detectives in our office are very happy the page has been shut down,” says St. Petersburg police sex crimes detective Karen Lofton.
Lofton says the shutdown will take away the online anonymity of the crime that allows users to post under fake names and profiles that can be deleted. She says it will force face-to-face operations back to the streets, where it's more visible to investigators, at least until the next page pops up.
“I know what will happen, but if we keep trucking along and get them one at a time, hopefully they'll stop,” says Lofton.
The senators leading the investigation, Rob Portman, Rep.-Ohio and Claire McCaskill, Dem.-Missouri, say, “Backpage's response wasn't to deny what we said. It was to shut down their site. That's not ‘censorship’ - it's validation of our findings."
(© 2017 WTSP)