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DOJ Shutters Backpage.com

April 9, 2018

The Department of Justice has seized Backpage.com. A notice has been posted at Backpage.com saying that the web property has beenn seized as part of an enforcement action by the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who has championed landmark, bipartisan anti-sex trafficking legislation which recently passed 97-2 by the Senate and slated to be signed into law by President Trump, said, “This is great news for survivors, advocates, and law enforcement in Missouri and across the country, but it’s also long-overdue, and further proof of why our bipartisan legislation is so critical. State and local law enforcement need this bill to enable them to take swift action against websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking of children online, and to stop the next Backpage long before another website can claim so many innocent victims.”

Last year, McCaskill joined with Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Tom Carper of Delaware in recommending the Department of Justice investigate Backpage following a two-year Senate investigation into the website. The senators told the Department of Justice that “there is reasonable cause to believe that violations of law may have occurred.”

Congress recently passed landmark bipartisan anti-sex trafficking legislation championed by McCaskill—the culmination of her years-long pursuit of justice against Backpage and companies like it, that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking—to ensure they can be held liable and brought to justice. McCaskill’s bipartisan legislation will clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) to ensure that websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable so that victims can get justice. Backpage has escaped accountability for years by twisting the CDA as currently written into blanket immunity, which the narrowly-crafted legislation seeks to prevent from ever happening again.

The legislation was the result of a two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations inquiry, led by McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor, and Senator Portman, which culminated in a report entitled “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” and found that Backpage knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits. McCaskill has offered to share the more than a million pages of materials from the investigation with local prosecutors and law enforcement.

McCaskill and Senator Portman’s investigation led to the Senate’s 96-0 passage of a resolution authorizing a lawsuit against the company—the first such action in 20 years—after the company refused to turn over documents responsive to the Senators’ requests. That historic lawsuit also led to the Supreme Court’s denial of Backpage’s request to stay the U.S. District Court’s order to comply with the Senate’s subpoena.

Senators Portman and McCaskill, the chairman and ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations during the 114th Congress, began their bipartisan investigation of Internet sex trafficking in April 2015. With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, Backpage is a market leader in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children.

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