by WorldTribune Staff, April 12, 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump on April 11 signed into law legislation giving authorities at the federal and state levels wider power to crack down on websites which feature sex trafficking ads.
The “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act”, or Fosta, also enables sex trafficking victims and state attorneys-general to file civil lawsuits against the websites.
Trump signed the legislation just days after seven executives for Backpage.com were arrested on a 93-count indictment that alleges the website facilitated prostitution and laundered tens of millions of dollars in profits, and that teenaged girls were sold for sex on the site, The Washington Post reported.
Backpage’s classified ad websites around the world were also shut down.
“Fosta gives prosecutors the tools they need to ensure that no online business can ever approach the size of Backpage again,” said Rep. Ann Wagner, Missouri Republican and chief sponsor of the legislation.
Backpage.com began shutting down on April as FBI agents began taking down a network of web pages worldwide. A notice on the site said it had been seized as part of an enforcement action by the FBI, the IRS and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The Sedona, Arizona home of Backpage co-founder Michael Lacey was raided by the FBI, according to local media reports, but federal authorities would not comment on criminal charges.
Related: Unreported: 1,500 pedophile arrests made nationally since Trump took office, Feb. 26, 2017
An Arizona Republic reporter also witnessed FBI activity at the Paradise Valley home of Jim Larkin, another Backpage co-founder.
Backpage started as the literal back page of the New Times, filled with classified ads.
Lacey and Larkin, former New Times executives who sold off the newspaper chain in 2012, retained the lucrative interest in the Backpage website.
California prosecutors filed state criminal charges against Backpage last year, but that case and others were derailed because of protections in the federal Communications Decency Act, written to protect free speech on the Internet.
The law signed by Trump on April 11 strips away that shield.
Wagner said online sex-related advertising revenue had declined 87 percent in the last 60 days, roughly when her bill passed the House.