Backpage.com started out in life as a reasonably simple idea: it would be the combined classifieds section for a group of magazines and websites owned by Village Voice Media.
But somewhere along the way, sales of used bicycles and Honda Civics got overtaken by prostitution ads. Soon the site was being condemned by attorneys general and parents' groups for enabling the sex trafficking of minors.
Just last month,Â three girls in Washington State said they were raped multiple times after pimps advertised them as prostitutes on Backpage.com, while in Washington, D.C., a man was sentenced to prison for running a prostitution ringÂ that employed more than 50 prostitutes and generated more than $1.8 million from servicing clients in the D.C. area.
Craigslist suffered a similar fate and responded by eliminating its "Erotic Services" section. But Backpage soldiered on, sometimes arguing that while prostitution might be illegal, advertising personal services was protected by the First Amendment.
Now, a group of Village Voice senior managers have put together a leveraged buyout and will be taking over the group's publications, including Village Voice, LA Weekly, Phoenix New Times, SF Weekly and others. Ownership of Backpage.com will remain with theÂ Village Voice Media, led by CEO Jim Larkin and Executive Editor Michael Lacey.
"Backpage.com, which is not included in the transaction, will become the centerpiece of a new online classified advertising company with business worldwide," Village Voice Media said in a statement provided by general counsel Elizabeth McDougall.
Backpage has claimed that most of the escort ads on the website are placed by consenting adults and that management makes an effort to screen ads for abuses, but anti-trafficking groups, law enforcement and advertisers have still called for the company to stop running escort ads entirely.
Some advertisers had dropped their ads in Village Voice publications because of petitions from consumers objecting to the erotic ads.