Phoenix Domestic Violence Shelter Sues Backpage

A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Sojourner Center, a nonprofit based in Phoenix that helps victims of trafficking and domestic violence by the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund and Boies Schiller Flexner LLP against the website Backpage.com for participating in the trafficking of children and young adults for sex.

According to plaintiffs, 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.

“Lacey and Larkin are facilitators of sexual exploitation of children. They are providing the connection (Backpage.com) between men who want to have sex and buy it online. They essentially are a drug dealer providing a drug to those addicted to sex with children. They discovered this market years ago and have legally maneuvered to protect their financial stake in this despicable business of selling human beings. I hope they understand that they created many victims who are now speaking out with no statute of limitations because they were children when they were sold in the Adult Services section,” stated anti-human trafficking advocate Kathleen Winn, executive director of AZMEN.

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 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.