Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt joined top prosecutors in 45 other states today in looking into sexually explicit advertising practices on the online classified site Backpage.com
The AGs sent a letter to the Internet site, owned by Village Voice Media, LLC, requesting its procedures for removing ads connected to the sex trafficking of minors. Despite Backpage’s claims that its policies restrict illegal activities, Schmidt said prosecutors across the country have found hundreds of ads offering illegal sexual activity.
The attorneys general pointed to 50 cases prosecuted in 22 states over three years where minors were advertised for sex on Backpage.
“It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution,” the attorneys general wrote. “These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely exist.”
One such case surfaced this summer in Wichita. Mike Neloms faces trial on charges that he advertised a 15-year-old girl for sex on Backpage. Michael Gress is charged in the same case with paying to have sex with the girl this past May.
The girl’s ad, however, remained on Backpage for weeks after the site had been contacted by the teen’s attorney and a social worker.
Backpage removed the ad after the Eagle published a story about the case, and the site received complaints from members of ICT SOS, a community volunteer group concerned with sex trafficking in Wichita.
“The evidence shows that traffickers use these websites to promote their illegal activity,” Schmidt said in a statement from his office. “We ask that all online advertising services join our efforts to reduce sex trafficking by enforcing strict but reasonable screening and monitoring policies.”
The move by the AGs is similar to actions, which resulted in Craiglist shutting down its “erotic services” listings. Attorneys general say they’ve have been asking Backpage to stopping accepting such ads two years
The attorneys general say Backpage is currently the nation’s top provider of “adult services” advertisements, which draw some $22.7 million in annual revenues for Village Voice Media.