SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The classified ad website Backpage.com has shut down its adult ad section and local law enforcement see this as a triumph in the fight against sex trafficking.
Since Monday, adult ads are inaccessible on the site. It says “CENSORED.”
The company sees this as unconstitutional government censorship and a violation of free speech.
It comes after a Senate report found that the site was editing its adult ads to remove words that indicate sex trafficking.
Over the past few months, the Sarasota police department has been running operations to rescue women who were sold for services on Backpage.com.
Lt. Randy Boyd said some of the victims were minors and the ads were intentionally written to conceal their true intent.
“They’re not gonna go, ‘Hey we got a 16-year-old, come over and visit.’ They’re gonna say ‘call this number’ and wherever that conversation goes, from there it will go,” explained Lt. Boyd.
It took a lot of time and effort to track down the victims on this site because of this.
“It has absolutely become a big problem….It takes law enforcement to stay diligent. It takes watch groups to notify us when we’re not seeing things,” said Lt. Boyd.
The officer is excited to see the adult ads shut down.
“That is outstanding news… we’ll hold [Backpage] to task if they falter in what they have said they’re going to do,” Lt. Boyd explained.
The organization “Selah Freedom” provides services to help victims of sex trafficking.
“We’re so grateful to have the opportunity to live in a time where our communities, our nation, is saying ‘enough is enough.’ We’re going to recognize the issue, we’re going to take action against it and we’re going to shut this website down,” said Selah Freedom Director of Awareness Vanessa Morris.
But, officials said there’s still plenty of work to do, since there are other sites were sex trafficking is still present.
“We hope that this is just the beginning of a lot of great news to come….[officials are] recognizing that this is happening in our own backyard and we have to take action against it,” said Morris.
Backpage.com released a statement which says in part: ‘This act of censorship will not reduce the problem of human trafficking, and those who suggest otherwise are deluding themselves and their constituencies. Instead, it undermines efforts by Backpage.com to cooperate with law enforcement and provide information to identify, arrest and prosecute those who engage in human trafficking.’
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