“Critics who demand Backpage.com eliminate an ‘adult’ category fail to understand the significance of Backpage.com’s assistance to the rescue of victims and conviction of trafficking perpetrators. Indeed, they expressly misunderstand it,” lawyer Liz McDougall said this year in a prepared statement before the New York City Council..
Backpage.com’s protections didn’t get in the way of a 14-year-old girl, who landed on Backpage.com after running away from a Key West shelter to Fort Lauderdale, where court records say she met DeAngelo Jones.
Jones bought the girl products, makeup and jewelry. He told her she “was walking around broke and that there were men who had money.”
He took the girl to a Red Roof Inn and had his girlfriend take a picture of the 14-year-old with a Target cellphone and post it on Backpage.com.
On her first night as a prostitute, the girl had three “dates,” according to a federal complaint. Jones gave the girl two nights off, but then forced her to turn five tricks on the fourth night, and took all the money she was paid.
When she resisted, the complaint says, Jones beat her. When Jones thought she was “disrespectful,” he threw her against a mirror. When she refused sex with a customer, he punched her in the chest five times and stripped her naked.
Jones’ lawyer, Roy Jeffrey Kahn, denied the accusations, saying the crime was committed by the girlfriend, who worked as a prostitute, recruited other girls and posted the Backpage ads. All Jones did was buy her a cellphone.
Jones, who was arrested last June, is charged with facilitating underage prostitution.
An adult ad on Backpage.com costs $10 in South Florida. Village Voice doesn’t say how many ads it gets, but one estimate comes from a consultancy group that specializes in online classifieds.
The latest AIM Group report acknowledged that Backpage.com isn’t the only business in the adult ad business. That includes The Miami Herald, which runs paid ads for massage parlors in its sports section.
But it appears to be the industry leader online. In June, the AIM Group estimated Backpage.com posted more than 95,000 listings for escorts and body rubs, bringing in up to $2.45 million.
After Backpage.com, the next most-profitable group mentioned in the AIM report is Eros.com, which brought in just $477,000.
Part of the way the ads generate money isn’t just the number of girls advertised, said Broward Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Guisseppe Weller, who works with the South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Pimps will place the ad and renew it over and over again, pushing it back to the top of the page.
That’s what happened in Jacksonville, where a 16-year-old foster care girl got recruited into prostitution by the man accused of being her pimp. Her pimp renewed her ad on Backpage.com five times in less than a month.
In June, four alleged pimps were arrested as part of an investigation into a ring of human traffickers who preyed on abused and neglected children in foster care. They used a Homestead building as a brothel. And they too advertised on Backpage.com, which served as both their advertising medium and the paper trail for authorities.
Backpage.com’s McDougall said the site has three layers of review and immediately reports suspicious content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.