On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council gave final approval of a resolution that calls for the closure of classified-ads website Backpage.com's controversial adult section. As we reported earlier this month, Minneapolis police announced that all 20 child sex trafficking cases it has investigated so far this year involved juveniles advertised on Backpage.
The Star Tribune has reported on numerous cases throughout the metro that have been linked to the site within the last several months. Just search the word "Backpage" in our archives (make sure to click "all content").
Posters on Backpage can easily and without spending much money reach a broad audience by publishing ads, some of which are listed under "escorts" and "body rubs" and which often are accompanied by photos of scantily dressed girls and women.
In a statement released Friday, Mayor R.T. Rybak said, he was pleased that Minneapolis City Council was joining the numerous other groups including St. Paul City Council that have asked for the adult section's demise.
“When I published the Twin Cities Reader in the 1990s, we turned down ads from Backpage.com because we refused to participate in the trafficking of women and children. It cost us a lot of money, but it was the right thing to do,” Rybak said. “Times have changed: now, ending sex trafficking is a national priority, and Minneapolis police and city attorneys are doing incredible work to fight it right here."
Rybak had signed a letter along with other members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in May asking for Backpage's owner to require in-person verification of an escort advertiser's ID and proof of age and identity of those depicted in the escort ads. He was also mentioned in a New York Times column about Backpage's adult section written by former Twin Cities Reader editor David Carr.
Backpage is owned and operated by Village Voice Media, which also owns several alternative weekly papers, including City Pages in the Twin Cities. Village Voice Media's legal counsel Liz McDougall, who also represented Craigslist when it went through similar criticism in 2010, said earlier this month that targeting the site has lately been "a politically popular thing to do." But she said the company works on many levels to stop trafficking on the site and cooperates regularly with police. If the section of the site was shut down, she argued, those operations would move offshore where U.S. officials wouldn't be able to recover the digital and financial clues to make arrests and conduct investigations.
The FBI identifies Minneapolis as one of 13 cities with a large child prostitution concentration.
In a statement Friday, Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, chair of the city’s intergovernmental relations committee, said, “We’ve made progress on this, and calling for the shutdown of this website is a great step, but there is much more we are planning to do to end the sexual exploitation of youth.”
In addition to approving the Backpage resolution Friday, the council also approved amending the city's fiscal year 2013 federal legislative agenda to support legislation that works to end the sexual exploitation of minors by building a system that responds to their needs.
You can read the city's resolution here.