Since 2010, detectives from the Seattle Police Department’s Vice/High-Risk Victims Unit investigating online escort ads have only found ads for juveniles posted on one website: Backpage.com.
What’s more, a Seattle Police Department memo obtained by Seattlecrime.com shows that more than three-quarters of all SPD investigations into escort ads in the last two years were generated from ads posted on Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, parent company of the Seattle Weekly.
According to the memo In 2010, SPD investigated 30 cases of prostitution on Backpage.com. Of those cases, 11 involved juveniles.
To date this year, SPD has recovered five juveniles from Backpage ads, and investigated 13 additional cases of prostitution on the site.
In that same period, police investigated nine cases of prostitution on Craigslist, two at Men4rentnow, two at The Stranger, and one on the TNA Board website. Police say no juveniles were involved in those 14 cases, the memo indicates.
I asked SPD whether they’d focused more on Backpage in the last two years, or if it was simply easier to find juveniles there than on any other escort site.
“Pimps go to Backpage.com because it’s easy to post advertisements for children forced into prostitution,” says SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. “All you have to do is pay with a credit card and check a box.”
Indeed, Backpage’s user agreement appears to only require posters to pay with a credit card and clicking a box confirming they are over the age of 18:
You agree to the following when posting in this category:
- I will not post obscene or lewd and lascivious graphics or photographs which depict genitalia or actual or simulated sexual acts;
- I will not post any solicitation directly or in “coded” fashion for any illegal service exchanging sexual favors for money or other valuable consideration;
- I will not post any material on the Site that exploits minors in any way;
- I will not post any material on the Site that in any way constitutes or assists in human trafficking;
- I am at least 18 years of age or older and not considered to be a minor in my state of residence.
Any post exploiting a minor in any way will be subject to criminal prosecution and will be reported to the Cybertipline and law enforcement.
Any post with terms or misspelled versions of terms implying an illegal service will be rejected. Examples of such terms include without limitation: ‘greek’, ”gr33k”, bbbj’, ‘blow’, ‘trips to greece’, etc.
Mayor McGinn and the Seattle Police Department are scheduled to meet with Seattle Weekly publisher Kenny Stocker, Backpage.com Vice President Carl Ferrer, and Village Voice Media Board Member Don Moon at City Hall this afternoon to discuss Backpage’s ad policies.