Wagner & Maloney Call on U.S. Department of Justice to Investigate Backpage.com
WASHINGTON—Today, Congresswomen Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) sent a joint letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling on the Department of Justice to open an immediate criminal investigation into Backpage.com’s knowing advertisement and facilitation of online sex trafficking.
“New revelations reported by The Washington Post show that Backpage.com has employed Avion, a contractor in the Philippines, to solicit and create sex ads,” states the Congresswomen’s letter. “In Congress, we have introduced the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, which would amend Section 230 to clarify that the law does not provide protection to websites that facilitate sex trafficking. Despite this, we believe that the U.S. Department of Justice already has the tools it needs to bring a strong criminal case against Backpage.com.”
The full text of the Congresswomen’s letter is below:
July 13, 2017
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Sessions,
We write to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately investigate Backpage.com and bring the website to justice under 18 U.S. Code § 1591 for knowingly advertising and financially benefiting from participation in sex trafficking. We call your attention to new revelations, first reported by The Washington Post, that Backpage.com has employed Avion, a contractor in the Philippines, to solicit and create sex ads. Among other activities, the contractor’s employees created fake sex ads that indicated the sale of child sex trafficking victims in order to lure potential customers to Backpage.com to purchase illegal sex. According to The Washington Post story, when a potential customer expressed interest in a phony sex ad, “an email directed that person to Backpage.com, where they would find authentic ads.” Backpage.com pushed Avion to “get as many new listings as possible,” a task that involved Avion drafting free ads for users.
Backpage.com has long argued that it is a mere third-party platform with no responsibility for the sex trafficking ads that are posted on its website. This is an utter lie, as has been made clear by both the new revelations from The Washington Post and a January 2017 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on Backpage.com that exposed the website for actively facilitating illegal ads. Despite this evidence, Backpage.com continues to hide behind a misinterpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in state cases and civil suits, as it has done for years in response to these complaints about its criminal content.
In Congress, we have introduced the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, which would amend Section 230 to clarify that the law does not provide protection to websites that facilitate sex trafficking. Despite this, we believe that the U.S. Department of Justice already has the tools it needs to bring a strong criminal case against Backpage.com. If there are additional legal tools or support required for this investigation, we request that you make these clear so we may work quickly to provide them to the Justice Department. Otherwise, we see no reason why a criminal case should not be brought against Backpage.com for its criminal role in sex trafficking in America.
We appreciate your leadership in combatting human trafficking, and we eagerly wait for this overdue investigation to begin. We stand ready to assist your efforts.
Ann Wagner Carolyn B. Maloney
Member of Congress Member of Congress
Co-Chair of the Human Trafficking Task Force Co-Chair of the Human Trafficking Task Force