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Senate votes to hold Backpage in contempt

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate voted unanimously Thursday to hold the website Backpage.com in civil contempt for failing to comply with a Congressional sex trafficking investigation.

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Heidi Heitkamp

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted unanimously Thursday to hold the website Backpage.com in civil contempt for failing to comply with a Congressional sex trafficking investigation.

The move comes after Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer refused to comply with subpoenas or show up for a Senate subcommittee hearing last November focused on how the website has become an online hub for sex trafficking.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., serves on the subcommittee that pushed for this action, the first time in more than 20 years the Senate has held anyone in contempt of Congress.

“Getting this vote today is historic,” Heitkamp said. “It’s showing the level of concern and importance about human trafficking that we all share in the United States Senate, especially the sex trafficking of small children.”

North Dakota recently saw a spike in the number of online sex ads, particularly in communities affected by the oil boom. In one case that Heitkamp cites, a 14-year-old runaway was advertised for sex on Backpage in Minot.
“We know the conduit for trafficking in North Dakota at this point is Backpage,” Heitkamp said.

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Backpage attorney Steve Ross said in a statement the issue will now be submitted to the courts, which is what the company had been urging for nine months.

“Backpage.com looks forward to a proper consideration of the important First Amendment constitutional issues by the judiciary - the branch of government charged with protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans,” Ross said.

The subcommittee’s investigation is seeking information about what safeguards Backpage uses to prevent the trafficking of children.

More than 70 percent of suspected child sex trafficking cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are related to Backpage, Yiota Souras, the center’s general counsel, told the Senate subcommittee last November.

Backpage makes it easier to sell a child online that it does to sell a motorcycle or a pet, Souras testified during the hearing.

Christina Sambor, who leads North Dakota’s anti-sex trafficking task force known as FUSE, said Thursday she’s hopeful the Senate’s actions will be an effective move to shut down Backpage’s facilitation of sex trafficking.

“We are far from immune from the impacts of Backpage’s stubborn refusal to stop allowing traffickers to utilize its ‘escort’ ads as a thinly veiled market for commercial sexual exploitation,” Sambor said.

Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMPCRIME
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