WASHINGTON D.C. --- Sex trafficking was the focus of the United States Senate hearing on Tuesday. Senators heard disturbing testimonies from families who said loved ones were victims of trafficking through a website called Backpage.com. Several local incidents involving prostitution in the Spokane area have also focused on the site.
For the first time, the government is taking action. Backpage.com recently censored their adult section.
When logging on to Backpage.com and clicking on the adult section, users now see the message “the government has unconstitutionally censored this content.” However, the message is misleading due to the fact Backpage made the decision to take down the content on their own.
Attorney Michael Pfau, who represents a number of girls who were trafficked on Backpage, was at the U.S. Senate hearing.
“Let me be very clear, backpage.com has not been censored in any way shape or form. That suggests somehow the government has ordered them to take down their website or they did it under pressure of the government,” Pfau said.
Several cases have been brought against Backpage over illegal activity found on the site, but none have moved forward partially because the site cannot be held responsible for ads posted by a third party.
“Backpage was actively editing the ads and changing the ads so as to avoid detection from law enforcement, or as the Senate pointed out, deleting terms from the ads that indicated minors were being trafficked and then running those ads anyhow,” Pfau said.
Backpage issued a statement on their website that said in part, “The decision of Backpage.com today to remove its Adult Section in the United States will no doubt be heralded as a victory by those seeking to shutter the sire, but it should be understood for what it is: an accumulation of acts of government censorship using extra-legal tactics.”
Pfau said, “Yesterday afternoon the Senate issued a 50+ page report, scathing report, on Backpage’s activities, then Backpage censored their adult section. Then the Backpage executives came into the Senate hearing committee and all pled the 5th Amendment."
In the future, Pfau hopes the legislature will make it easier to criminally convict and civilly sue websites that promote prostitution and child trafficking.