In a court case in Tacoma, Wash., three girls say they were raped multiple times after pimps advertised them as prostitutes on Backpage.com, the classified ad site owned by Village Voice Media.
The site has been the target of investigations and demands by state attorneys general and parents' groups. The site has also been implicated in a federal court case in Virginia, where prosecutors say gang members trafficked high school girls as prostitutes through Backpage.com
Two of the Tacoma girls were 13 and one was 15 when "professional adult pimps" advertised them as prostitutes on Backpage.com, which "at no time" tried to verify their ages or do anything to protect them, according to the complaint in Pierce County Court, Courthouse News Service reported.
"Two of the girls were 13 years old and one girl was 15 years old when they ran away from home and became controlled by professional adult pimps who posted advertisements for the girls on the Backpage.com escort website, a website owned, operated, designed, and controlled by the Backpage.com defendants. Hundreds of customers responded to the Backpage.com advertisements, and the girls were all raped by adults multiple times as a result," the complaint states.
"The Backpage.com defendants were well aware that their website was being used in this way because they developed and required content to ensure that young girls, like the plaintiffs, would continue to be advertised in this manner. The Backpage.com defendants did so because of the millions of dollars that they generated from the website every month."
The girls claim that Backpage "does more to promote illicit human sex trafficking than any other single entity in the United States," and has knowingly developed a reputation as a site where "pimps and prostitutes advertise commercial sex and where commercial sex customers can find it."
They claim that Backpage developed content requirements to "assist pimps and prostitutes in avoiding detection so that Backpage.com can continue profiting from their illegal activities."
For example, advertisers cannot offer "sex for sale," but can ask for "donations" for an "escort," and the site allows blurred photographs that conceal the escort's identity, the complaint states.
The girls, J.S., S.L. and L.C., sued Village Voice Media Holdings dba Backpage.com, and an alleged pimp, Baruti Hopson, who they say is in prison.
L.C. says she was 13 and "barely one month out of seventh grade" when her picture was posted as an escort on Backpage. L.C claims she "was raped by hundreds of adult prostitution customers - as many as twenty per day."
The girls call Backpage user requirements - that the advertiser must be at least 18 and may not post ads that solicit sex for money or exploit minors - a "fraud and a ruse that is aimed at helping pimps, prostitutes, and Backpage.com evade law enforcement by giving the appearance that Backpage.com does not allow sex trafficking on its website."
Backpage and its corporate parent Village Voice Media Holdings sued Washington State in June to stop enforcement of a new child sex-trafficking law that requires publishers to verify the age of people shown in sex ads. Enforcement of the law has been enjoined until the case is heard in Federal Court.
Attorneys general from 46 states last year demanded that Backpage.com Â disclose information on its alleged attempts to remove sex trafficking advertising, especially that which could involve minors.Â
In the past three years, there have beenÂ more than 50 cases in 22 states involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through the site, the AGs said.
In the Virginia cases, two men associated with the Fairfax County-based Underground Gangster Crips (UGC) gang pled guilty in May to participating in a prostitution business that recruited and trafficked high school girls.
Donyel Pier Dove, aka "Bleek," 27, of Alexandria, Va.,Â pled guilty to sex trafficking of a juvenile and use of a firearm during a crime of violence. Â He also admitted to purchasing a credit card that was used to pay for advertisements on Backpage.com to solicit customers for the prostitution enterprise. He was recently sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Michael Tavon Jefferies, aka "Loc," 21, of Woodbridge, Va., was sentenced Â to 10 years in prison.