Backpage.com, which has long been accused of involvement in child sex trafficking, was seized by federal authorities last week.
Days later, founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin, as well as several others associated with the site, were arrested after a grand jury handed down a 93-count indictment. They are accused of facilitating prostitution, conspiracy, and money laundering.
By posting ads for sex workers and those looking for them, Backpage facilitated prostitution, according to the indictment. Some of the people trafficked on the site were as young as 14.
How Did Backpage Wind Up in Trouble?
The accusations that have brought Backpage under such scrutiny include:
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that almost three-quarters of all child trafficking reports it receives are associated with Backpage.
- In 2016, a 16-year-old girl was killed in Chicago by someone who responded to an ad placed on Backpage by her pimp.
- Another minor was killed after she was trafficked on Backpage, and the company then refused her father’s pleas that they remove all ads showing her face, according to the indictment.
- Backpage employees knowingly allowed ads for sex with minors to run after editing them to remove all references to underage girls, an investigation by a U.S. Senate subcommittee found. This contradicts the company’s claims that it has no control over the content of the ads on its site.
- Federal authorities say Backpage laundered some of its revenue related to prostitution, which is estimated to be about $500 million.
Why Did It Take So Long?
Backpage is not the first website to be seized like this. Federal authorities have shut down other sites suspected of facilitating prostitution and the sale of guns and illegal drugs.
Backpage has been the target of lawsuits and of criminal investigations for years, but the site successfully defended itself against lawsuits by using the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which shields website operators from prosecution over content posted by third parties.
Congress amended that law, and, while the new law has yet to be signed by President Trump, federal authorities made their move against Backpage.
Turning Up the Heat on Prostitution
The move is indicative of an increasingly aggressive approach by federal, state, and local authorities to crack down on sex trafficking, especially when it involves minors.
Law enforcement officials set up sex stings in different ways. Often, police officers go undercover and solicit prostitution or offer sex for money.
What a lot of people who run into this situation don’t realize is that you don’t have to physically engage in prostitution to be charged with a crime. If someone offers you sex for money – whether online or on the street – just walk away and remove yourself from the situation. If the person offering services turns out to be a cop, even just flirting with them could land you in cuffs.
Common charges that sex stings can lead to include:
- Solicitation; or
- Criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
SC Criminal Defense Lawyers – Prostitution and Solicitation of Prostitution Defense
A majority of the prostitution and solicitation cases that we see have resulted from stings set up by law enforcement through Backpage and other online personal ads in the Myrtle Beach area.
If you have been charged with solicitation or prostitution, we may be able to get your charge dismissed or win it at trial, depending on the circumstances. Call the Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyers at Coastal Law today at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.