BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Now that Backpage.com is gone, law enforcement is trying to find out where sex traffickers will migrate next.
The executives of Backpage, a popular website to buy and sell sex, have been indicted over allegations that their platform was a magnet for child sex traffickers and prostitution.
Police agencies in Maryland and around the country have set up prostitution and human trafficking operations by placing fake ads on the site. One of the latest happened near a business park in Howard County last week when 11 men were arrested.
It was also one of the last after the federal government abruptly shut down the website.
“Backpage was a place where they were able to see ads for very young girls that were often posted by traffickers. Now that Backpage is gone, they will use other methods and strategies to try to find those same people,” Howard County Police spokesperson Sherry Llewellyn said.
“There’s like hundreds of guys responding to the ad. They are letting all of this happen on their website,” one sex trafficking victim said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said Backpage was the subject of 73 percent of its child sex trafficking tips.
“She was raped. She was physically abused,” said Kubiiki Pride, a mother of one of the victims.
“Backpage.com, and other companies like this, must be held responsible for what they have created,” Yvonne Ambrose said.
Ambrose’s daughter, Desiree Robinson, was murdered by a man who connected with her on Backpage.
“If there were stricter rules in place for postings on these websites, then my child would still be alive with me today,” Ambrose said.
A Backpage representative said it was a mere host of content created by others. Some worry predators will now go further underground.
“The important thing is that we have been able to arrest some traffickers. Then we find out they that’ve been trafficking very young girls, and those are the ones that we really want to get to,” Llewellyn said.
Police say they have made hundreds of arrests, including a man now serving 50 years in prison for trafficking 13- and 16-year-old girls.
Federal prosecutors say Backpage made more than $500 million from ads for sexual services.