Minors sold for sex on website frequented by prostitutes

Minors sold for sex on website frequented by prostitutes

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"Right now, backpage.com is one of the biggest we monitor. Since October we've made 94 arrests," said Capt. Allen Wolfie May. "Right now, backpage.com is one of the biggest we monitor. Since October we've made 94 arrests," said Capt. Allen Wolfie May.
"There have been two 14-year-olds recovered in Memphis both on backpage, two 16-year-olds out of Murfreesboro both on backpage, a 17-year-old out of Clarksville on backpage. This is a huge problem," said Quin. "There have been two 14-year-olds recovered in Memphis both on backpage, two 16-year-olds out of Murfreesboro both on backpage, a 17-year-old out of Clarksville on backpage. This is a huge problem," said Quin.

By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The Knox County Sheriff's Department is cracking down on people using backpage.com to buy and sell sex.

Since 6 News' original report almost two months ago, almost 20 more people in Knox County have been arrested for using the website for prostitution.

But backpage.com isn't only causing issues in Knox County.

According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the website is causing problems across the state, not only for promoting prostitution but for the commercial sexual exploitation of our children.

The website contains photos and ads that make no pretense about what is being offered, even though a disclaimer says any money exchanged is for companionship services only.

Capt. Allen Wolfie May with the Knox County Sheriff's Vice Unit investigates illegal activity on the escorts section of backpage.

"Right now, backpage.com is one of the biggest we monitor. Since October we've made 94 arrests," said May.

TBI's Assistant Special Agent in Charge Margie Quin said not only are adults being advertised on backpage, minors are being sold for sex on the site as well.

"Unfortunately in our state we are recovering juveniles at a fairly alarming rate on backpage for dates, escorts, but what it really amounts to is prostitution," said Quin.

Quin says according to studies, 94 minors are being advertised for sexual purposes online in Tennessee each month. Last month, a tip came in about a 13-year-old.

"We were able to find her ads on backpage and we were able to recover her. There have been two 14-year-olds recovered in Memphis both on backpage, two 16-year-olds out of Murfreesboro both on backpage, a 17-year-old out of Clarksville on backpage. This is a huge problem," said Quin.

Quin says backpage makes $22 million a year from advertising sex.

According to backpage's legal representative, ads on the site go through an automated filter searching for words related to sex ads. When found, the ads aren't posted.

Filters also block the email addresses of past users who have violated the terms of use. Quin says this is not enough.

"They say they are monitoring their site, but we are finding quite a number of kids depicted as young as 14 on backpage," said Quin.

Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation making a company liable for selling ads involving sex with anyone appearing to be a minor.

Backpage filed a complaint saying the law violated the First Amendment. A judge agreed saying the law was too broad and vague.

Quin said she plans to work with lawmakers to make the language in the bill more specific in the hopes that it will stop some of the illegal activity online.

"These ads are on backpage. These kids are on backpage. They are not putting themselves up there. Pimps are putting them up there and johns are seeking them out," said Quin.

Capt. May say those who pay for the services are also contributing to the community's drug problem because most of the women selling sex are doing it to get drug money.

"An incident we had this past week, we had a mother, daughter, 25 and 45. They were doing approximately $125 heroin shots five to six times a day each," said Capt. May.

May said he hasn't found a minor on the site, but says if they are in Knox County, he hopes to help them.

Backpage's legal representative says if backpage didn't exist the sex trafficking and prostitution would just go somewhere else, like an offshore site where law enforcement can't make arrests as easily.

She says backpage helps police to arrest the pimps and traffickers.

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