Sale of Sex Thriving Despite Backpage’s Ad Elimination

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In the midst of a Senate investigation, a federal grand jury inquiry in Arizona, two federal lawsuits and California criminal charges accusing Backpage.com’s operators of pimping children, the website bowed to pressure in January and replaced its sex ads with the word “Censored” in red. Now, some women are advertising their services through the site’s dating section, the New York Times reports. The demise of Backpage’s adult ads undermined the trade, while it also illustrated how difficult it is to stamp out selling children for sex. Eric Quan, a sergeant in the San Jose police human-trafficking unit, said there had been a conspicuous rise in street prostitution in San Jose. “When Backpage was running adult ads, we used to get tips, but that has dropped off,” he said. “It makes it a lot more complicated for us to figure out what’s going on.”

Advocates said that while the elimination of the listings was a step forward, by itself it was more an inconvenience than a crippling blow. “It was such a huge marketplace that any way to eliminate the widespread distribution of ads is progress,” said Yasmin Vafa of Rights4Girls, a human-rights organization fighting gender-based violence. “But until we see a more comprehensive solution, it is going to pop up elsewhere.” King County, Wa., found that 79 percent of the men charged with seeking to pay for sex with a minor from 2013 to 2015 were white, while 44 percent of those they were accused of propositioning were African American. “We educate our judges that although there is no single buyer profile, buyers are predominantly white, educated, married men,” said Victoria Sweet of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Backpage, where revenue increased to $135 million in 2014 from $5.3 million in 2008, derived more than 90 percent of its earnings from adult ads, says the California Department of Justice.

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