Backpage shuts down portion of its website; experts say human trafficking threat remains

Backpage shuts down portion of its website; experts say human trafficking threat remains

(WAFB) - A major change to an often shady website may help curb human trafficking cases in the United States, but the problem may still pose a threat to young women and children in the Baton Rouge area.

For years, prostitution has plagued the streets of Baton Rouge and beyond. While much of the human trafficking cases in the capital region have migrated from the streets to smartphones, Backpage decided Tuesday to remove the adult escort section from its website, meaning wrongdoers will now have to find another place to sell sex.

Bradley Myles, CEO of the anti-human trafficking group, Polaris, says the Backpage website was responsible for roughly 80 percent of all U.S. trafficking cases in the past eight years.

"We saw it as a really great step forward because that site was playing such a role in facilitating trafficking," Myles said. "It was way too big for law enforcement to keep up with. It was way too big for advocates to keep up with and it had just grown almost like a runaway train."

That runaway train has been running rampant in Baton Rouge. In 2014, the FBI conducted a prostitution sting in Louisiana where they caught 16 suspected pimps, 75 alleged prostitutes, and recovered three children who were all tracked down on Backpage. In 2015, a Zachary man was accused of prostituting a 19-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl in a Baton Rouge hotel. He too connected to his clients through Backpage.

Just two weeks ago, Baton Rouge police arrested three suspects, accusing them of running a prostitution ring out of a home on Kimbro Drive. All of their advertising was done on Backpage.

Myles said doing away with the adult escort section of the website may put a dent in the problem, but will not eliminate it altogether. "We're aware of the fact that the ads might migrate to other parts of Backpage. They might migrate to the dating section and we're also aware of the fact that Backpage operates in 90 countries," Myles added.

There is something residents can do though to keep their kids safe however. Myles said it is important for children to know they belong and that someone cares about them.

"If there's any kid that feels abandoned or feels neglected, that's the void that a trafficker's going to try to fill," Myles said.

Perhaps the biggest thing residents can do though is realize the problem is very much still a reality. "Pimps are still out there and those guys looking to buy sex from children are still out there and that market is still out there," Myles added.

Anyone who is involved or knows someone involved in human trafficking is encouraged to call the National Human Resource Center Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.

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