Popular sex advertising website Backpage.com was shut down and seized on Friday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the notification, the website and its affiliates were seized under the enforcement of several other agencies including the U.S Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. The founders of Backpage, Michael Lacey, Jim Larkin, and CEO Carl Ferrer, have been fighting a slew of legal battles the past few years. The owners are consistently accused of facilitating human trafficking on their website in a variety of different methods.
The documentary film I am Jane Doe presents a detailed journey of multiple child sex trafficking victims and their families fighting for justice. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) 75% of child sex trafficking reports were derived from Backpage. Due to these numbers, this makes it the #1 used website for online child trafficking. For years, Backpage has been known to be a site in which sex traffickers gained easy access for the advertisement of women and children, making it a magnet for online trafficking crimes.
In one personal story, a mother named Kubiiki Pride found her missing 13 year old daughter on Backpage with provocative pictures of her posted in the escorts section. Kubiiki Pride was forced to purchase her daughter back from the trafficker in order to secure her safe return home. Her trafficker was later jailed, however, Pride also expressed great concern for the website which remained unaccountable. After reaching out to the company, Pride states they refused to take down the explicit photographs of her daughter despite the imprisonment of her trafficker. Enraged at the inaction of the company, they decided to file a lawsuit claiming the site as well as parent company Village Voice Media Holdings, were complicit in the trafficking of children. Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, it was ruled that Backpage should have no liability for the crimes committed on their site. Unfortunately, this was a common theme as the company continuously won numerous lawsuits in the past decade. Article Here
Lawyers working the cases were baffled, the company remaining unscathed seemed to be a “mystery.” But Backpage owners accumulated massive amounts of wealth over the years, making it nearly impossible to go up against them. In its initial stages, Backpage acquired a net income of $5 million annually; by 2015 they were making $153.8 million per year.
Attorney Erik Bauer, representing underage children who were advertised in Seattle, was finally able to get his case to the Washington State Supreme Court. Their argument was that the company was deeply involved with assisting the traffickers in the creation of their content. Backpage appeared to have “coached” the criminals into using particular wording as to remain undetected by law enforcement. Their posting rules seemingly provided guidelines for traffickers to continue with their criminal activities. For example, the site would recommend posters spell out telephone numbers in order to make it difficult for the FBI to track. Additionally, they would advise them to utilize prepaid cards instead of debit or credit cards to stay anonymous. Additionally, the “Banned Terms List” was altered frequently. In a feigned effort to “crack down” on traffickers, Backpage stated they utilized a list of banned terms for their site. These terms included words such as “Teen” or “School Girl.” Yet no sooner was the list implemented, it was then reversed. Other times, if the words were not unbanned, common code language was promoted as a clear depiction of young children. In the end, judges ruled that the website did not “maintain neutral policies.” One judge implied the company was a “partner in crime” just as if they owned a site hosting “snuff films.” Link Here
By 2015, CEO Carl Ferrer was ordered to testify in front of a Senate Subcommittee on Child Trafficking. Ferrer disregarded his subpoena and failed to appear in court. He became one of the very few citizens to be held in Contempt of Congress. Meanwhile, a company-wide email was sent out laying off the majority of its moderators and advising to seek council immediately, should they be asked to testify. Ferrer was eventually arrested, however, a judge ruled this violated the CDA 230 and promptly released him.
In 2016, the Backpage founders and CEO found themselves in another legal bind with pimping charges coming from California’s then-Attorney General Kamala Harris. The case, however, was quickly swept under the rug. In October, co-founder Jim Larkin donated $10,000 to Nancy Pelosi super PAC (House Majority PAC), a committee which also contributed to Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign. Only 2 months, later the case was dropped by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown who also cited CDA 230. According to The Washington Times, the owners have a history of being a major contributor in politics. Since 2010, they have been recorded as giving $99,000 to candidates and $95,000 to various Democratic parties. Link Here
Yet, politicians, judges, and super PACs aren’t the only powerful entities who protected Backpage throughout the years. According to I am Jane Doe, several groups provided millions of dollars in financial support to Backpage during their legal battles. The main groups include the Electronic Frontier Foundation and The Center for Democracy and Technology. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) contains the following major institutions:
AT&T, Facebook, Ford Foundation, Google, Inc. MacArthur Foundation, Markle Foundation, Microsoft, Yahoo, and even the George Soros backed Open Society Institute.
The majority of them provided millions of dollars in support to a company with serious serial accusations of child trafficking facilitation. Soros’ Open Society Institute donated nearly $2 million dollars to the CDT in 2014 alone. In 2017, Consumer Watchdog compiled a 48 page report entitled “How Google’s Backing of BackPage Protects Child Sex Trafficking.” Documents Here
Google has also recently come under fire for insinuating child sex ads are “free speech.” They continuously refuse to distance themselves from Backpage even after a letter was sent to Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sundar Pichai from the parents of the victims pleading with them to cease their support.
Now that the founders have been arrested following the raiding of their homes, there is much anticipation to see how many people this scandal will entrap and who will be the next major figure to fall. However, one thing is for certain. President Trump has taken the lead on halting the human trafficking epidemic; this is a fact the media can no longer hide. With 80% of the child trafficking victims being advertised on Backpage, this is an enormous blow to the child trafficking industry. As Trump said, he plans to put “the full weight” of the government behind stopping these criminals, including seizing the assets of serious human rights abusers as stated in the recently signed Executive Order #13818.
This article (BACKPAGE: Online Child Trafficking Protected By Google, Government & George Soros) was originally published on Fulcrum News and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.