Safety Sync: Backpage and Its Connection to Human Trafficking

Dec 06th, 2017

By Brittany Lewis, MCASA Program Intern

“Young, beautiful and naughty treat. Ready now.”

“New in town. Not new to pleasing you.”

“Tell me how you like it, when and how you want it.”

These seductive messages are real quotes from the “women seeking men” section of Backpage. Backpage.com, an online classified ad service, where individuals can buy and sell a variety of items. It has also become a platform for sex trafficking. Under the “dating” column of the website, traffickers post ads for underage minors using headlines such as, “little angel seeks daddy” and “fresh young sweet simple girl.” Using these keywords as well as others notifies traffickers that the girls advertised in the ads are underage.  

Legal Action

Authorities and individuals in several states have taken steps to stop Backpage from publishing harmful material. In 2016, California pressed criminal charges[1] (pimping, pimping of minors, and money laundering) against two former owners and the current CEO of Backpage.com. The California Superior Court of Sacramento County dismissed the pimping charges,[2] finding that section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act[3] provides immunity for internet service providers.

In an article for The Washington News Post,[4] Yiota Souras, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), argues that Backpage alters and changes the context of ads, thereby going beyond simply “republishing” on its website. In September, Judge Lawrence Brown dismissed the pimping charges against the three executives, but ruled to proceed with charges of money laundering and bank fraud.

Take Action

Although Backpage does report sexual misconduct involving minors to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC),[5] these numbers are typically only in the hundreds. This number is relatively small considering NCMEC sent over 164,000 notifications to electronic service providers flagging websites that have images depicting child sexual abuse. That is why many nonprofit organizations such as End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) , SAFE Coalition for Human Rights (SAFECHR) and Polaris Project have taken action by providing their own Human Trafficking prevention resources. Members of the public can take action by contacting their state and local officials to express their support for protecting survivors of human trafficking. This year at the federal level, Congress is proposing two bills to amend the Communications Decency Act.[6] If amended, the bills would hold providers or users of interactive computer services liable for knowingly or recklessly posting material that engaged in the sex trafficking of children. In addition, you can take action by educating yourself about the signs of human trafficking, reporting suspicions of human trafficking, and advocating for change in your community.

If you suspect human trafficking in Maryland call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888 or text "HELP"/ "INFO" to 233733.

For more information on resources for survivors of human trafficking in your area call (301) 328-7023 or visit www.mcasa.org.


[1] People of the State of California v. Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey, & James Larkin. (2017). Retrieved from https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press_releases/backpage%20redacted.pdf

[2] People of the State of California v. Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey, & James Larkin. (2017). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2543&context=historical

[3] Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute. 47 U.S. Code § 230 - Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230

[4] The alleged link between child trafficking and Backpage.com [Video file]. (2017, July 10). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/national/the-alleged-link-between-child-trafficking-and-backpagecom/2017/07/11/706c8fe0-65c8-11e7-94ab-5b1f0ff459df_video.html?utm_term=.70d468c619b3

[5] National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Key Facts. (2017). Retrieved from   http://www.missingkids.com/KeyFacts

[6] National Center on Sexual Exploitation. (2017). Background. Retrieved from http://endsexualexploitation.org/cda.

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