Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Cop carThe News Tribune's "Lights & Sirens" blog has one of the latest example of minors advertised on the online classified site Backpage.com (emphasis is mine):

A Tacoma woman who allegedly allowed two 15-year-old girls to prostitute themselves in the home she shares with her two young sons is in the Pierce County Jail charged with two felonies. Not guilty pleas were entered Tuesday on behalf of Jacqueline Nicole Carr in Superior Court. She’s charged with two counts of promoting the commercial sexual abuse of a minor...The case against her began Monday when a Lakewood police detective investigating juvenile prostitution spotted an ad on backpage.com, court records state. The ad featured two young females wearing lingerie and posing provocatively, the records show.

This is obviously disturbing, especially because we're told, via Backpage's official blog, that the company implemented "strict policies to prevent illegal activity," that "inappropriate ad content [is] removed"  and that they are engaged in "The review of all ads and images in the personals and adult sections of the site."

If so, how do so many ads involving minors end up online on Backpage.com? That's why we asked Backpage.com to help us better understand their procedures for removing such ads. Attorney General McKenna gave a policy address at the Spring meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General regarding the company's failure to respond to state attorneys general. He sited another recent, terrible incident involving minors posted on the site:

Federal authorities apprehended a man in New York for sexually trafficking six minors through Backpage. Federal law enforcement officers say Thomas Cramer, a career criminal, recruited the girls, placed ads for them on Backpage and took the girls to meet customers at hotels, taking a portion of the proceeds.

In a text message exchange captured by DOJ, Cramer tells a girl that she can make more money being a prostitute than at her job at a grocery store. Prosecutors say at least one of the minors was a runaway. That’s typical. Pimps and other traffickers target the vulnerable – society’s so-called “throw-aways.”

No young person deserves to be thrown away. It’s outrageous that kids who face abuse at home, who often run away and fall into drug or alcohol abuse, are exploited by pimps. Yet, as vice-squad officers will tell you, these are the kids sought out by criminals, recruited into prostitution and posted for sale on sites such as Backpage.

Finally, in case you missed it, politicians in Washington, DC have taken notice of Backpage.com:

WASHINGTON, DC – Sen. Mark Kirk, R-IL, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT and Rep. Dave Reichert, R-WA have added their voices to the tens of thousands of Americans signing online petitions and letters to Backpage.com, calling on the online classified site to end so-called “adult services advertisements.”

“Every day, more voices join those speaking on behalf of young people sold by pimps on Backpage.com,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “It’s wrong when pimps traffic human beings and it’s wrong for a major corporation to monetize such exploitation. Backpage executives must decide if they will continue to be impervious to public opinion and immune to any sense of shame, or do the right thing.”

-Dan Sytman-