It was the third bust of a Central Florida sex-trafficking ring in as many days. Fed up, the leader of one law enforcement agency looked into television cameras and issued not a warning, but a promise.
“Backpage,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said, referring to the web-based classified ad service Backpage.com implicated in all three cases, “you’re going to be criminally investigated and so are the people that are in charge of the organization. It’s abundantly clear to us that they are facilitating organized prostitution. They are facilitating human trafficking. We’re not going to have that.” Authorities in the Central Florida cases say pimps and johns used the site to arrange dates with the prostitutes. Judd said Backpage is complicit because it charges higher fees for adult ads than other types of listings. Authorities say users routinely violate the site’s rules against code words by employing obvious euphemisms, such as “donation” or “roses,” for cash exchanges.
However, Backpage attorney Liz McDougall said in an email that the company is concerned about human trafficking, too. According to McDougall, Backpage’s triple-tiered policing system includes an automated filter that screens for 36,000 terms and a round-the-clock team of some 80 staffers checks ads before and after publication. “Vilifying” Backpage, McDougall said, would only push the problem elsewhere, as evidenced by cases in Ireland and Finland.
Learn more at Keyonna Summers’ Tampa Bay Times article: After sex-trafficking arrests, Backpage.com under fire.