New York, February 7, 2017 – Legal Momentum – The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund and Boies Schiller Flexner LLP today filed federal lawsuits on behalf of an individual and entities in Arizona and Florida against the website Backpage.com for participating in the trafficking of children and young adults for sex.
Backpage has avoided civil and criminal liability in the past by claiming that it was simply an innocent website posting ads by others. However, evidence cited in the complaints, including evidence resulting from Boies Schiller Flexner’s investigation and a recent United States Senate investigation, shows that Backpage actively participated in preparing the content of advertisements offering children and others for commercial sex.
“Backpage helped create ads offering children and others for commercial sex in violation of numerous state and federal statutes,” said David Boies, the chairman of the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP and an attorney for the plaintiffs.
One of the lawsuits, filed in the Middle District of Florida, is being brought on behalf of Florida Abolitionist, an anti-trafficking organization based in Orlando, and Jane Doe, who was raped as a result of an ad placed on Backpage.com. The other lawsuit, which also includes Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations claims, was filed on behalf of Sojourner Center, a nonprofit based in Phoenix that helps victims of trafficking and domestic violence.
“The online exploitation of teen girls is the biggest human rights violation of our time. Backpage.com knowingly facilitated this evil and must be held accountable to the harmed girls and to the organizations that provide them services so they can heal and recover,” said Carol Robles-Román, the President and CEO of Legal Momentum and a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has reported that over the last five years it has seen a 98 percent increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking, much of it online. Seventy-one percent of the recent child sex trafficking reports it receives are linked to Dallas-based Backpage.com, which brings in roughly $9 million in revenue per month through sales of sex ads (including ads selling children). A battle being waged by several mothers whose middle-school daughters were victims of trafficking on Backpage.com is the subject of a movie, “I Am Jane Doe,” to be released on February 10.
Earlier this year, Backpage.com announced it was closing its Adult Services section, but the ads for sex trafficking have simply moved to its Dating section, according to the two lawsuits.
In October, Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer was arrested on criminal charges filed by California Attorney General Kamala Harris that included pimping a minor. Backpage.com’s two controlling shareholders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit pimping. Although earlier charges were dismissed, a new round of criminal charges, which now include money laundering, remain pending in California.
Legal Momentum – The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, has been advocating on behalf of girls and women for nearly 50 years. Legal Momentum was instrumental in drafting and helping pass the Violence Against Women Act and other major legislation that protects girls and women. Sex trafficking is an extreme form of violence against children and women.
Boies Schiller Flexner LLP is working with Legal Momentum pro bono as part of the firm’s civil rights practice.