Internet Site Dismissive of Attorneys General Concerns

The johns knew her as “Angela,” a 16-year-old whom pimps sold on the website Backpage.com, updating the ads throughout the day to ensure that a picture of her lingerie-clad body would remain at the top of the advertising page’s daily offerings. The pimps in the case have received sentences ranging from probation and short jail stays to four years.

Angela, now 20 and attending Metropolitan State University of Denver, believes action is needed to scrub the Internet of sites where sex with children is purchased. “I think there should be some consequences if they have something on the Internet that they know is a direct link to child sex trafficking. I am living proof that this is going on,” she said. “Most of the time, girls don’t end up going to college; the kids normally wind up dead or go back to (prostitution).”

The National Association of Attorneys General considers Dallas-based Backpage among the country’s top websites for human trafficking.

Federal courts have ruled that parts of the 1996 Communications Decency Act provide immunity from state prosecution to classified-ad sites, saying they can’t be held responsible for the actions of third-party advertisers, said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. Last July, the National Association of Attorneys General wrote to Congress seeking an amendment to the act, arguing that the law needs to be updated so local prosecutors can take action against those who use technology to promote sexual exploitation of children. Congress didn’t act on the request.

Backpage has about 80 staff members who operate a prevention system that includes an automated filter and two levels of human review to catch ads that indicate illegal activity, particularly sexual exploitation of a child or prostitution, Liz McDougall, Backpage general counsel, said.

The company’s efforts fall short of what is needed, said Staca Shehan, director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children case-analysis division. Shehan doesn’t dismiss concerns that shutting down adult-services advertising could drive the business offshore and increase the difficulty of policing child sex trafficking. “However,” she said, “you can’t allow a crime to continue because of concerns you might have if you change the current system.”

Learn more at Tom McGhee’s The Denver Post article: Internet site where children sold for sex “dismissive” of concerns raised by attorneys general.

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