Backpage.com, a website notorious for its facilitation of prostitution and sex trafficking shut down the "adult" sexual services advertising section of its website. The website, which Polaris Project calls "the world's top online brothel," removed the prostitution ads' section hours after a scathing U.S. Senate report concluded the website was the "largest commercial sex services advertising platform in the United States."
The Senate report also noted, according to Charisma News, that "Backpage officials have publicly acknowledged that criminals use the website for sex trafficking, including trafficking of minors."
However, Backpage executives refused to testify before Congress on Tuesday after the Senate report accused the site's directors of systematically editing "adult" ads to remove words that indicate sex trafficking, reports Dallas News. The report alleges backpage.com President Carl Ferrer knew his company tasked employees to delete words, such as "Lolita," "rape," "Amber Alert," "fresh" and "school girl" from listings.
Four of Backpage's top executives and the company's lawyer told a Senate subcommittee they were invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
The Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations members released a report Monday charging that Backpage created a lucrative marketplace that makes child sex trafficking easier. 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.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the panel's top Democrat, called Backpage "a $600 million company built on selling sex -- and importantly, built on selling sex with children."
Backpage is a classified advertising website launched in 2004. It offers listings about automotive, jobs listings, real estate and services. In 2011, Backpage was the second largest classified ad listing service on the Internet in the United States, after Craigslist.
Backpage.com was developed to compete with Craigslist; the site offers ads in 600 cities and 90 countries. In 2013, of the nearly $45 million generated annually by prostitution-based online advertising, backpage.com reportedly accounted for 82 percent of the overall revenue, making it the leading publisher of these types of ads.
Thousands of people, including children, have been exploited for sex by pimps and traffickers via the website's' advertising platform, asserts Charisma News.
Spokespeople for backpage.com have tried to spin the story to one of government censorship and a violation of First Amendment rights. But what the report and others have pointed out is that when people are in a clear and present danger, government officials have the right to intervene to limit or stop that kind of speech. The prohibition of child pornography and the censoring of hate speech are but two examples of when the government has exercised the right to intervene when necessary.
"This is a monumental time in history," said Rebecca Bender, a sex trafficking survivor and CEO of the Rebecca Bender Initiative. "What Backpage has done, by knowingly allowing online ads of children, is not a matter of censorship; it is an organized company using an online avenue to conduct criminal activity and finally that avenue has been brought to the light. Now we must fight, we must call our senators and attorney generals and rally for prosecution. The fight to hold companies accountable is just beginning."
Bender, an ordained minister since 2014, is currently finishing her master's in Biblical Studies at Bethel University. In 2007, she said she escaped a life of sex trafficking in the United States, and found hope and restoration solely through Jesus Christ.
In 2013, she wrote her first book "Roadmap to Redemption," a faith-based workbook for survivors and advocates
She now is a nationally recognized, leading expert on the issue of domestic sex trafficking. She has trained thousands of service providers, first responders and faith leaders, including President Jimmy Carter, National Director of FBI conference, Shared Hope International, and Just Faith. She is the recipient of multiple FBI and Congressional recognition awards, the 2015 Hero to our Generation Award, 2014 Female Overcomer Award, and the 2013 Unlikely Hero Award.
She was chosen as one of the top 22 Survivor Leaders being featured in a PSA titled, "More Than a Survivor."