Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has been a vocal advocate and champion for the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Last year in our state, a Coral Cables man was arrested for human trafficking.
One common element in many of these stories is Backpage.com.
Backpage began as a classified advertising website in 2004. It offered very traditional services, job listings, real estate, and so forth. They also had an “escort” section, which was later removed, and changed to “personals” — an attempt to keep the law at bay.
A couple of weeks ago, after a massive effort by Bondi (as well as every other AG in the nation), the FBI and public won a huge battle as the Department of Justice seized the site on April 6. The company’s CEO then pleaded guilty to “charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering.”
Backpage was certainly not the first page with adult-themed ads and listings. However, what caused the entire country to hunt them down was the fact that they have been accused that the site “encourage[s] dissemination of child sex trafficking content on its website” (as per the National Center for Missing And Exploited Children).
According to the NCMEC, the majority of child sex trafficking cases referred to the organization involved ads found on Backpage.
What’s next? Five members are the Backpage.com team have a trial date for Jan. 15, 2020. Some argue that Backpage was not responsible for the consequences of its ads; others say it gave workers in the escort industry a safe place to operate.
Newsweek has a very dramatic (spare us the drama, guys) headline about that: “‘People are going to die’: Sex workers devastated after Backpage shutdown.”
Nevertheless, even the appearance of turning a blind eye to the exploitation of children — in both Florida and nationwide — is worthy of the full wrath of our nation’s law enforcement (unless proven innocent, of course).
But it would appear that Backpage’s Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin are going away for a long, long while.
A shout out to Bondi and her team for fighting the good fight.
Have a great weekend.
Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.