SALISBURY, Md. – Before Backpage was terminated, Cpl. Chris Heid could locate sex trafficking victims exclusively on the popular classified advertising website.
Backpage was responsive to the Maryland State Police corporal’s requests for records and his agency’s warrants and subpoenas. When he asked the site to remove advertisements he determined were trafficking-related, moderators complied – sometimes within minutes.
“I don’t agree with what they were doing, but they did cooperate with law enforcement,” Heid said of Backpage, which the National Association of Attorneys General called a “hub” of “human trafficking, especially the trafficking of minors.”
As criminals benefit from technology in communication, wide distribution and anonymity, law enforcement agencies find themselves using the same platforms to stop those illegal revenues and gather evidence. The shutdown had rippling effects on how law enforcement agencies combat trafficking.
Maryland State Police: Number of victim contacts
Backpage.com was involved in nearly three-quarters of child-trafficking reports received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children between 2013 and 2017. In 2017, the center responded to 10,000 reports of possible trafficking. When Backpage went dark, so too did access to countless posts that police used to identify and find victims.
Anti-trafficking operations by Maryland State Police yielded three more arrests in 2018 (when Backpage was seized) than the year prior, but the number of victims police came in contact with dropped 38 percent, from 113 in 2017 to 70 last year.
Delaware didn’t pass legislation against sex trafficking until 2014, 14 years after it became a federal crime. Using findings from the Criminal Justice database, the Delaware Human Trafficking Interagency Coordinating Council reported that 13 human trafficking-related charges were made between 2012 and 2017.
To read the full story by Taylor Goebel on USA TODAY: Click HereTags: Backpage, Maryland, State Police