The CEO of Backpage.com, an online classified website that hosts “escort” ads selling children for sex, was arrested today on state felony charges of pimping children, following a sweeping investigation by the California Attorney General’s office in coordination with the Texas Attorney General’s office.
In addition to CEO Carl Ferrer, two controlling shareholders of Backpage, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, have also been criminally charged with conspiracy to commit pimping. The charges allege that they conspired to purposefully design the Backpage website to be “the world’s top online brothel.” They also allege that Ferrer actively facilitated the sale of children for sex online, including children under the age of 16 years old.
Backpage.com is a website that hosts classified ads, including a section for “escorts.” Law enforcement investigations have determined that many “escort” ads on Backpage involve children being sold for sex. Based on Backpage’s business model, it has been alleged that Backpage creates, and actively encourages, a lucrative marketplace for child sex trafficking.
“Raking in millions of dollars from the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable victims is outrageous, despicable and illegal,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in announcing the felony charges against Backpage top executives. “Backpage and its executives purposefully and unlawfully designed Backpage to be the world’s top online brothel.”
John F. Clark, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said in a statement:
“NCMEC applauds the California and Texas attorneys general in pursuing criminal action against Backpage. As the leading non-profit working to end the sexual exploitation of children, NCMEC knows that the primary way children are sold for sex in this country is through the use of online classified advertising websites, such as Backpage.com. The criminal action initiated today will lead to new hope for children who are sold for sex online.”
The criminal charges, the first filed against Backpage executives, follow increased legal and legislative scrutiny into Backpage’s practices, including a contempt charge unanimously passed by Congress earlier this year, an ongoing Senate subcommittee investigation and two civil lawsuits brought by child victims trafficked on Backpage.
View the press release from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton here.
View the press release from California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris here.