May 23, 2012
Jefferson City, Mo. – The state attorneys general investigating Backpage.com’s adult services advertisements have rejected a demand by Backpage.com that the attorneys general stop asking for the site’s adult services sections to be taken down.
In a recent letter, Backpage.com’s general counsel, Liz McDougall indicated that the company would not agree to further conversations with attorneys general unless officials agreed in advance that they would not call for the elimination of adult ads on the site.
The attorneys general decided to make the company’s demand public after McDougall claimed in the Seattle Times and in several interviews that Backpage is an ally in the fight against human trafficking.
“It’s hypocritical for Backpage representatives to tell the public they cooperate with law enforcement when they’ve been so unresponsive to the chief law enforcement officers of 48 states and three territories,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, who chairs the working group of 48 states with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. “Now they demand that we take the most effective solution — the removal of adult services — off the table before they’re even willing to cooperate.”
McKenna added that claims of law-enforcement support for the company were last week refuted by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who found that many of the sources cited by Backpage representatives as supportive, including Ernie Allen, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, actually want Backpage’s adult services sections taken down. Contrary to Backpage’s claims about police support for the site, Cooper found that the New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas Police Departments all agree that Backpage is a problem and should cease running prostitution ads.
“One reason police are critical of Backpage.com is because too often the victims of prostitution are children,” said Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. “The Attorneys General are committed to finding any solution to prevent the adult services section of Backpage from being used for human trafficking. It is disappointing that Backpage will not make the same commitment, and instead demands that we take possible solutions off the table. ”
Backpage attorneys took nearly eight months to respond to an August 2011 inquiry from the attorneys general about how the site tries to prevent the exploitation of minors. The company’s March 23 response did not answer fully most of the questions posed. Rather, McDougall presented an ultimatum that the attorneys general drop their request for the adult services sections to come down. “If NAAG and its members are interested in cooperation, and will stop instead simply continuing demanding elimination of the adult category,” McDougall wrote, “please let me know by March 28, 2012 so that we may determine how to proceed.”
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said “the goal is to protect children from being sold. We are open to any workable solution, but if the only way to do that is to remove all adult services advertisements, then the attorneys general must insist the option remain on the table.”