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It was billed as a resounding victory for law enforcement, but the demand for sex won’t stop.Critics say the site’s shutdown may make work more dangerous for women in Florida’s ever-thriving sex industry — and will push the business to murkier parts of the internet, complicating the job of local police officers who regularly scoured Backpage to find trafficking victims.Both sites have now stopped taking ads from the United States. In recent years, those charged include a local Spanish-language singer, a man who forced a runaway teen to tattoo his street name on her eyelids and a businessman who lured girls from Kazakhstan with the false promise of working at a yoga studio.The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 74 percent of all its child-trafficking report last year was generated from Backpage.“People are celebrating a hollow victory,” said Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, an author and criminology professor at George Mason University who serves an expert witness in human-trafficking cases. It was a centralized location where they could find ads and decide whether or not to initiate a sting.” Said Amber, a co-founder of the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Tampa: “Sex workers all over the country are in a panic.It was affordable — 5 to 10 dollar ads, whereas many websites can charge as much as 0 to post an ad.
And they’ve indicted the website’s founders and employees, alleging the company raked in tens of millions while knowingly facilitating the prostitution of minors.
The State Attorney’s Human Trafficking Unit and local police have used Backpage as a chief tool, leading to scores of arrests in recent years.
Just over half of adult victims in recent Miami-Dade cases, and 40 percent of minor victims, were advertised on Backpage.com, according to prosecutors.
A state court judge threw out the case, echoing the site’s longtime position: that Backpage was protected when publishing speech posted by other people.
The state later filed new charges against the men, this time charging them with money laundering. Backpage’s attorneys could not be reached for comment.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has been outspoken against Backpage; her office filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit filed last year by trafficking victims against the website.