U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Wednesday announced that his resolution to hold Backpage.com in civil contempt of Congress has unanimously passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and is now ready for a vote by the full Senate. In his role as Chairman of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Portman issued a subpoena to Backpage.com for documents about the company’s business practices, particularly how it screens advertisements for warning signs of sex trafficking. Because Backpage has refused to comply with that subpoena, Portman introduced a Senate resolution to hold the company in civil contempt and force Backpage to turn over documents about its screening practices.
Excerpts of Portman’s remarks are below.
“Over the past 10 months, we have conducted a bipartisan investigation into this growing problem of sex trafficking on the internet. This morning Senator McCaskill and I have a request to make of the committee.
“In order to address the problem of selling children and coerced adults in online marketplaces in a legislative manner – first we need to understand it better and that’s what our work has been. And it has been not just bipartisan but nonpartisan.
“At the PSI hearing we had in November the subcommittee heard testimony from a group called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – highly regarded group nationally that monitors and tracks this issue. And they told us that 71 percent of all suspected sex trafficking reports [that NCMEC receives], this is children sex trafficking, has a connection and a link to Backpage.com. 71 percent.
“I was in Ohio this week and met with four women who had been trafficked and are now in a program to deal with their drug addiction and help them get back on their feet, all four of them talked about it and talked about the coercion that they were under and the fact that Backpage was how they were sold…”
With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, Backpage is a market leader in commercial-sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including trafficking of children. In a bipartisan staff report issued two months ago, the Subcommittee revealed evidence that Backpage has had a practice of editing advertisements before they are posted by deleting certain words and phrases, which likely served to conceal illegality. The subpoena seeks more information about that practice, but Backpage has refused to turn over documents.