After being online for 14 years, Backpage.com users saw a message Friday from the FBI saying the site was seized as a law enforcement action from the Justice Department, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.
The seizure was a major victory for King County Councilwoman Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who introduced legislation 11 years ago making a law against advertising commercial abuse of a minor, targeting Backpage.com.
"We signed it into law and Backpage.com sued the State of Washington to block it, and they won," Kohl-Welles said.
But on Friday, investigators pulled the plug on Backpage.com, after a U.S. Senate investigation concluded it aided criminal trafficking of young girls, by scrubbing terms from ads such as "Lolita," "teenage," "rape," and "amber alert."
Councilwoman Welles is convinced other websites offering similar ads are being built this minute.
"That's the reality, it's too profitable," she said.
Seattle attorney Mike Pfau sued Backpage.com on behalf of several children he says were trafficked on the site for sex in Washington, California, Texas, New York and Hawaii. “This is a really big deal,” he said. “This is a victory.Two of the girls we represented were trafficked when they were in seventh grade," he said.
Pfau says Backpage always claimed it wasn't responsible for what people offered for sale on its site--but he says he found evidence the site was involved in facilitating the sale of minors for sex online.
"(They) created a marketplace for this, they were involved in the editing of these ads and they had rules and regulations that actually assisted these criminals in avoiding arrest and prosecution," he said.
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