A KSFY exclusive about an effort to stop on-line sex trafficking in South Dakota. This story centers around a web site you likely have never heard of.
This site allows pimps and prostitutes to do their business on-line....in the open...and because of a loophole in a federal law there is virtually nothing state authorities can do to stop it.
The Internet allows you to find virtually anything with just a few keystrokes. Including sex for sale. Every day, ads go up featuring pictures of women who say they will spend the night with you for a price...and in these ads, the price is listed in black and white. There is no effort by the people posting the ads to conceal what this is; an online marketplace for prostitution with offers to meet up in Sioux Falls....Pierre....and Rapid City. All of it made possible by a web site called backpage.com.
"In South Dakota...backpage.com on their site has adult escort services that it is knowingly and for a profit essentially engaging in and helping facilitate the trafficking of young children for sex crimes and inappropriate activity." South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has talked to backpage.com about this....at length. And he's not the only one. In 2011, Jackley joined every other state attorney general in the nation in signing this letter sent to backpage.com....asking them to do something to stop these ads. "We know that you are doing this. Please stop doing this cause you're harming real people."
Jackley...and the other state attorneys general...were asking backpage.com to make a change...because they can't force a change....thanks to a loophole in a 17 year old federal law. A law which allows the Feds to hold web sites responsible for criminal activity but made no provision to allow states to do the same. "Is Congress going to give state authorities and state legislators the ability to deal with the company that knowingly and for profit facilitates the crime of trafficking young children for sex?"
This loophole doesn't sit well with Attorney General Jackley, who....with every other attorney general in the nation....is now preparing to formally ask Congress to close this loophole. The state is already performing sting operations with fake ads placed on backpage.com. But a lot of these ads are the real deal. and while it appears these women are offering themselves freely....in a lot of cases they are being made to do this by others and Jackley says states must be given the power to stop this.....because when backpage.com was asked to stop this on their own they said no. "Backpage.com has shown no interest and the profits are great for what they're making on some of these advertisements."
A 2011 analysis by the AIM Group shows backpage.com makes at least $23 million a year off ads like this and they make the money because they charge the fees and allow ads like this to be placed.
As you might imagine, backpage.com isn't sitting quietly on the sidelines. Their attorney, Liz McDougall, gave me this statement last night via email which says, "The aim of stopping the sex trafficking of minors, indeed the trafficking of any human being, is laudable. However, identifying and vilifying a single U.S. website as the cause of the problem and the key to the solution are ill-founded and unproductive. Unless the Internet is wholly shut down, the end result of this strategy will be that our children are advertised through offshore websites who do not endeavor to prevent such activity, who do not report potential cases of exploitation to law enforcement, who do not expeditiously cooperate with law enforcement to rescue victims and arrest pimps -- and who are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement so they can thumb their noses at U.S. law enforcement requests, even pleas, for evidence to find a child or stop a perpetrator."