The CEO of Backpage.com, Carl Ferrer, was arrested last week on charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to do the same. Backpage has long been used as a vehicle for human traffickers to advertise their product (both children and adults) to johns. Before Backpage, Craigslist was the major hub for domestic human trafficking in the United States but with that website making some honest efforts at reform and cooperation with law enforcement, human trafficking advertisements quickly shifted to Backpage. “Craigslist shut down the escort section immediately and overnight backpage.com exploded,” a law enforcement officer who works to counter human trafficking told SOFREP.
Under Dutch ownership, Backpage was started by Village Voice Media run by James Larkin and Michael Lacey who are also charged with conspiracy to commit pimping by the state of California, the district attorney stated at the culmination of the three year investigation that Backpage “was purposefully and unlawfully designed, “for human trafficking. The California District Attorney should be applauded for going after the facilitators of human trafficking, but police officers know that for every action there is a reaction.
As bad as Backpage is, their servers were located in the United States meaning that the company had to comply with US court orders. Several other “escort” websites exist with servers located in Canada, which is much less responsive to American requests for help. Hobbyists is the new jargon employed by johns who hire trafficked women for themselves, as kind of code word.
“If the market moves away from backpage.com like it did from craigslist, because of this legal action this could make life harder on law enforcement if the new host is not centered in the US,” the police officer told SOFREP.
Police Officers and prosecutors have their work cut out for them, as even their victories can come to resemble defeats. Backpage facilitated the trafficking of women, but also provided a start point for many police investigations as officers could see the escort ads that their pimps posted. Once the so-called Hobbyists migrate to another website, with servers located overseas, it will be much more difficult to subpoena information and ultimately to make arrests.
As for Ferrer, the Backpage CEO, our Law Enforcement source described what the case against him may end up looking like:
I would certainly be interested to hear a case study on this after the lawyers get done fighting it out in court. I think the primary issue is going to be linking a victim directly to the CEO’s personal knowledge of how their product is used. In short they are going to need his DNA/Fingerprints on something to show his personal knowledge and not just the institutional knowledge of the corporate managers and legal team.
“According to Backpage’s IRS filings, the company makes 99-percent of its income from its adult listings for escorts,” a legal analyst website explains. The California District Attorney’s office is currently looking for trafficking victims who were exploited by Backpage. The email [email protected] has been set up as a point of contact.