AUSTIN – Executives of the adult website Backpage.com sat down for a congressional hearing earlier this month in Washington, D.C. The site, which is the focus of an ongoing investigation, chose its Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination during the hearing.
Backpage has been under scrutiny because according to a U.S. Senate report released earlier this month, the site has been running ads that facilitate the online trafficking of women and children. Hours before the report was released, Backpage shut down its adult content in the United States.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office has aided in an investigation and vows to stop the advertisements.
“Sex trafficking is a crime that occurs nationwide, in both rural communities and urban communities,” Kayleigh Lovvorn, media relations coordinator at Paxton’s office, told the Southeast Texas Record. “Texas has the second-highest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline of any state in the country. Houston has the highest number of calls of any city in the country.”
Last October, Paxton’s office was a major reason for the arrest of Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer and the subsequent raid of the company’s headquarters in Dallas. The arrest was a team effort with the attorney general’s office in California, who later filed criminal charges of pimping and money laundering against the site. According to the Criminal Prosecutions Division of Paxton’s office, California is moving forward with its prosecution, while Texas’ investigation is ongoing.
In the latest development on Jan. 9, the Supreme Court said it would not hear an appeal from three alleged sex trafficking victims who accused Backpage of promoting the endangerment of children. The court ruled that the site is shielded from liability by federal law. The site claimed it is just the hosts of content and the users are the ones who create and display it.
The women said they were sold as prostitutes when they were as young as 15 years old. They claim that Backpage is not protected by the Communications Decency Act because it does not just host underage sex trafficking advertisements, but makes it easily accessible. Backpage denied these allegations. In response to the ongoing investigation of the company, Backpage replaced the shut-down adult section with a censored sign.
Paxton has made stopping online trafficking one of his main priorities during his term as attorney general, and this case is no different.
“Sex trafficking is one of the greatest evils facing our state, and websites such as Backpage play a large role in allowing the crime to flourish,” Lovvorn said. “We cannot allow websites to profit off of the sale of human beings.”