The top law enforcers from 21 states asked Phoenix’s Village Voice Media Holdings on Tuesday to shut down the adult services section of its popular Backpage.com, saying ads for prostitution and child trafficking “are rampant on the site.”
The call from the attorneys general comes just weeks after the online classified ad giant Craigslist reluctantly removed its own adult listings because of growing criticism from law enforcement and child advocacy groups nationwide.
“We sincerely hope Backpage, like Craigslist, will finally hear the voices of the victims, women and children, who plead with it to make this important change,” the attorneys general wrote in a letter sent to Village Voice attorney Samuel Fifer. “We believe that ads for prostitution — including ads trafficking children — are rampant on the site and that the volume of these ads will grow in light of Craigslist’s recent decision.”
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard was not among the 21 attorneys who signed the letter.
But the company just so happened to address some of the same concerns in a statement posted to its website on Sunday. The statement focused on a lawsuit filed last week in Missouri by a girl who said she became a victim of child prostitution at age 14 thanks in part to the fact that her pimp was allowed to advertise on Backpage.com.
The newspaper chain said it cooperates willingly with law enforcement whenever the case involves minors, as it did in the case of the Missouri girl, whose pimp pleaded guilty to federal prostitution charges earlier this month.
“Backpage.com has stringent safeguards in place to ensure that only adults use the site,” the company’s statement said. “We provided the FBI with the perpetrator’s I.P. address and credit-card information.”
The company said law enforcement agencies have asked for its help in only five cases involving minors despite the fact that there have been six million adult postings on its site.
Still, the fight for Village Voice Media is a financial one, too. While most classified ads on Backpage.com are free to post, the adult services section makes advertisers pay $5 for each listing.
A report by the AIM Group, a media and advertising research firm, recently estimated the ads have brought in $17.5 million in revenue for Village Voice Media. The firm also said its research found the ads on Backpage.com were “considerably more graphic and explicit than Craigslist ads.”
The attorneys general noted the money angle in its letter to Village Voice Media.
“We recognize that Backpage may lose the considerable revenue generated by the adult services ads,” they wrote. “Still, no amount of money can justify the scourge of illegal prostitution, and the misery of the women and children who will continue to be victimized, in the marketplace provided by Backpage.”