Aug. 5, 2016 - UPDATE: U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer has ordered Backpage’s CEO, Carl Ferrer, to comply with the Senate subcommittee’s subpoena and hand over documents pertaining to Backpage’s business practices within 10 days. That ruling follows the Senate’s unanimous vote to direct the filing of civil contempt proceedings against the online classified site. This is the first time in over 20 years that the Senate has taken such extraordinary action.
The Senate investigation and contempt proceedings follow increased scrutiny of Backpage among anti-trafficking non-profit organizations, in civil court proceedings and on Capitol Hill for child sex trafficking on Backpage.com.
Nov. 19, 2015
For the first time in more than 20 years, a key witness failed to appear today before a Senate subcommittee investigating the sale of children for sex on the Internet. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said his committee may pursue a criminal contempt charge against the CEO of Backpage.com.
Carl Ferrer, CEO of the online classified website, ignored the subpoena and has refused the subcommittee’s request for documents pertaining to its business practices, citing First Amendment protections.
“Backpage made a huge mistake today by making a mockery of this Senate hearing,” said John Walsh, co-founder of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, who attended today’s hearing on Capitol Hill. “Backpage has made millions of dollars at the expense of children by enabling pimps to sell them for sex on their website.”
The subcommittee, led by Portman and ranking member Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), has been investigating human trafficking on the Internet and has said Backpage is the “most important player” in this market, despite the website’s claim that it is a market leader in combatting the problem.
“We’re here to talk about the online, lucrative sale of America’s children for sex, which in our experience occurs most prominently on the website, Backpage.com,” testified Yiota Souras, NCMEC’s general counsel and one of two witnesses. “Every year in the United States, thousands of children are sold for sex and repeatedly raped.”
Souras testified that a vast majority of suspected child sex trafficking victims reported to NCMEC were advertised on Backpage. Since 1998, NCMEC’s CyberTipline, the nation’s reporting mechanism for suspected child sexual exploitation, received more than 45,000 reports relating to suspected child sex trafficking, most from ads on Backpage.
“Technology has fundamentally changed how children are trafficked,” said Souras. “Today, an adult can shop from their home, office or hotel room, even on a cellphone, to buy a child for sex.”
The subcommittee released a scathing report today condemning Ferrer and Backpage, saying the company edits out certain content that could distinguish legal ads from those that are selling children for sex.
The subcommittee is recommending enforcement of Ferrer’s subpoena.
“If Backpage thinks they are going to go quietly into the night, they are sadly mistaken,” McCaskill said.