Sex Trade Ad Bill Faces Uphill Battle

Kubiiki Pride’s daughter had been missing for nine months when she found the ad on Backpage.com. It was 4:30 a.m. and she was in bed on her computer, scrolling Backpage in a desperate search to find her 14-year-old runaway. She clicked on the “escorts” section and moved down two or three entries to one with childlike hearts. There was her daughter.

Pride would learn soon enough about the horrifying ordeal her daughter had endured after being prostituted by a trafficker on the website. With an estimated 70 percent of prostitution ads nationally credited to Backpage.com, it has drawn the ire of mothers like Pride — who brought a civil suit against the company — and law enforcement, which has tried to change state laws and hold the website accountable for paid ads posted by pimps and traffickers.

Now, Cook County prosecutors are working with Senator Mark Kirk on a different approach — a new federal law that focuses on the Internet sex trade, making it possible to criminally charge site operators who sell or promote ads that facilitate sex crimes, including prostitution and trafficking. Robert Pedroli Jr., who represented Kubiiki Pride in her unsuccessful civil suit, said the law faces a powerful challenge in the Internet lobby.

But for a mother like Kubiiki Pride, she can’t imagine a legitimate reason for allowing Backpage.com to continue offering an adult services section. “It’s a site no parent should ever see. You should never see your child being compromised and sold for sex,” she said. “There should be no place (for that) in America.”

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