Advocate: Federal Seizure of Backpage.com Puts Sex Workers in Danger

SACRAMENTO -- Federal agents who seized Backpage.com say it worked like this -- someone would place an advertisement for prostitution, the website’s in-house team would edit out obvious references to anything illegal, and then run the ad anyway.

"I know that people go, 'Oh, it’s the hugest brothel.' Get a grip," sex worker advocate Kristen DiAngelo said. "We aren’t in the 1800s anymore."

DiAngelo is the co-founder of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, or SWOP, in Sacramento. She says when Backpage disappeared, adult sex workers were forced back to street corners, where their lives are far more dangerous.

"What happened was we were able to take care of ourselves," she said. "When they took that down, what are people going to be able to do?"

But the Backpage indictment also includes accounts of trafficking victims, girls who were under 18 and being advertised for sex on the site.

"Children in our community are identified as having been sexually exploited or at risk for it," WEAVE spokeswoman Julie Bornhoeft said. "They’ve absolutely been marketed on these pages."

The indictment says Backpage took in some $500 million from selling prostitution ads.

The indictment contains no sex-trafficking charges, but it's the money the prosecutors are going after, saying when it altered ads, that Backpage conspired to profit from prostitution.

Similar charges brought in Sacramento against Backpage founders James Larkin and Michael Lacey and owner Carl Ferrer were thrown out by a judge based first amendment protections.

But the money laundering charges in the Sacramento case against the men is still moving forward.

If you are in the Sacramento area and are a victim of sex trafficking, you can reach WEAVE on their 24/7 support line at 916-920-2952, or you can call 911.