Oklahoma Joins Fight Against Alleged Human Trafficking Website

Thursday, September 1st 2011, 10:09 pm
By: News On 6

Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Oklahoma joined the fight against a website that some call a hotbed for human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.

Backpage.com says it's already working to prevent illegal activity on the site. But Oklahoma's attorney general says the site isn't doing enough.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt says this website makes it easier for traffickers to exploit runaways. And he wants to see the adult services section stripped from the site.

The front page of Backpage.com looks innocent enough, but attorneys general across the nation say there's a seedier side.

And one click will take you to dozens of racy ads featuring nearly nude pictures posted from right here in Tulsa.

"They are selling sex online," said Mark Elam.

Elam is with Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans. He says Backpage.com and other websites like it are enabling modern day slavery.

"The reality is they have women and young girls, minors, what we call children offering sexual services online," he said.

Backpage.com says it's committed to preventing the misuse of its site for illegal purposes and its boosted security.

The site says it's implemented a no nudity policy, it's banned terms to prevent illegal content, and it's referring ads with possible minors to the national center for missing and exploited children.

More Than 45 attorneys general, including Oklahoma's Scott Pruitt, sent a letter to backpage.com saying their efforts have been ineffective.

They point to a Massachusetts case, just four months ago, where a man was forcing a 15-year-old girl into a motel to have sex with various men, the suspect had posted the girl's picture on Backpage.com.

"Some of these young girls are minors, 13, 14, 15 years old, trying to be sold as 18 or barely 18. So it looks legal... well it's not legal anyway," Elam said.

AG's have deployed this tactic before; they took on the online classified ad site, Craigslist, back in 2008. Craigslist removed its erotic services section in 2009. And Oklahoma's AG and advocates like Elam would like to see backpage.com do the same.

"That is not prostitution that is a sexual crime against a child. And if you're an organization that's advocating that sale on your website, there needs to be some accountability," Elam said.

The AG's say the owners of backpage.com make nearly $23-million a year from its adult services section.