Backpage Execs Refuse To Testify at Sex-Trafficking Hearing

Executives at the advertising website refused to testify before Congress Tuesday following a Senate report that accuses the site of systematically editing its "adult" ads to remove words that indicate sex trafficking.

Four top executives and the company's lawyer told a Senate subcommittee they were invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report Monday charging that Backpage has created a lucrative marketplace that makes child sex trafficking easier. The report cites internal documents showing that up to 80 percent of the site's ads are edited to conceal the true nature of the underlying transaction.

Backpage has denied the allegations, and the site shuttered its "adult" section in the U.S. Monday night to protest what it calls government censorship.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the subcommittee's chairman, said Backpage's actions validated the panel's report, adding that Backpage has "put profits ahead of vulnerable women and children."

Backpage has shown it is "intent on profiting from human trafficking -- and human misery -- and profit they have, at the expense of countless innocent victims," Portman said as the Backpage executives sat stone-faced in front of him.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the panel's top Democrat, called Backpage "a $600 million company built on selling sex -- and importantly, built on selling sex with children."

Rather than turn away ads that sell girls as young as 12 for sex, Backpage executives "just tried to make it less obvious," McCaskill said. The committee's report said the company used a computer program to find and delete words such as "Lolita," ''cheerleader," ''teenager" and "young."

The editing practices amounted to "coaching" traffickers and pimps in how to make their ads appears legitimate while continuing to sell girls and boys into prostitution and modern-day slavery, McCaskill said.

"That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of evil -- simply evil,"...

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