A group of 21 state prosecutors said Wednesday that a letter was sent to Backpage.com notifying the site that such sections are often used to promote prostitution, including trafficking in children. The argument for closing the site was the same brought to Craigslist.
However, Backpage.com appeared to be more defiant in its refusal to remove the controversial section. "Backpage.com respectfully declines," the site said in its blog.
The state attorneys general's move against Backpage.com is similar to the pressure placed on Craigslist. The arguments of both sides in the latest case are the same, with the prosecutors railing against illicit sex trafficking on the site, and the website arguing that its business is legal and it is working with law enforcement in helping to prosecute any individuals using the service for illegal activity.
"Backpage.com is disappointed that the AGs have determined to shift blame from criminal predators to a legal business operator in an apparent attempt to capitalize on political opportunity during the election season," Backpage.com said.
Indeed, federal law protects classified ads sites from prosecution for the postings of users if the sites show they do not condone illegal activity on the properties. Like Craigslist, Backpage.com argues the state attorneys general are looking to censor its site.
"Censorship will not create public safety nor will it rid the world of exploitation," the site said.
Nevertheless, prosecutors claim that just having the adult services sites available is contributing to the problem. "Turning a blind eye to this very obvious avenue of criminal conduct, as many of these websites have done, is a shameful act in and of itself," Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray said in a statement.
Craigslist took down the adult services section of its U.S. site this month and later told a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., on child prostitution that the section had been "terminated." Nevertheless, William Clinton Powell, director of customer service and law enforcement relations at Craigslist, told the House subcommittee that people using the site for sex trafficking would likely go elsewhere on the web, making it more difficult for them to be monitored by law enforcement.
States attorneys general signing the letter sent to Backpage.com were from Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.