Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today implored the Obama Administration to step up its efforts to stop human trafficking, including the possible criminal prosecution of Backpage.com, which is reported to be the largest online forum for sex trafficking under-age girls in the United States.
Wolf, who has raised the issue of human trafficking not only internationally but here in northern Virginia, had language inserted in the FY 2012 spending bill that funds the Justice Department requiring U.S. Attorneys across the country to establish Human Trafficking Task Forces. Among other things, the task forces should proactively investigate people, organizations and businesses that facilitate trafficking through classified advertising on the Internet on sites like Backpage.com. Wolf is the chairman of the House Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations subcommittee.
At a February hearing of the CJS subcommittee, Wolf asked U.S Attorney General Eric Holder for an update on the task forces. Holder said he did not know the status but would report back. To date, Wolf has not received any information and in a letter to Holder today Wolf said he wanted an update by April 25.
Attorneys general from 46 states last year asked Backpage.com to step up its efforts to remove sex trafficking advertisements, ConsumerAffairs reported. In the past three years, there have been more than 50 cases in 22 states involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through the site, the AGs said.
Wolf also asked if tougher laws need to be enacted to assist law enforcement in dealing with the issue, which is essentially modern day slavery.
Wolf’s letter comes on the heels of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s March 31 piece that said Goldman Sachs is one of the owners of Village Voice Media, the company that publishes Backpage.com. Kristof also reported that a Goldman Sachs executive sat on the board of the Village Voice Media board for a number of years.
“Most Americans would be horrified to know that human trafficking isn’t simply relegated to distant lands, rather it is happening right here at home,” Wolf wrote. “It is happening to our sisters, our daughters and our friends with devastating implications. Just last week, in my area, five northern Virginian men with alleged ties to the Underground Gangster Crips gang were arrested and charged with sex trafficking (full story). The local teenage girls they victimized were allegedly recruited on Web sites like Facebook and then, according to a Washington Post story that reported on the arrests, ‘The teens were advertised on Web sites such as Craigslist and Backpage.com, according to court records…’ Here again, we see Backpage.com in the spotlight. When will this end?”
Wolf told Holder that the Obama administration needs to make dealing with this issue a priority.
“The media, civil society, faith leaders and more can and must continue to shine a bright light on the activities of Backpage.com and their ilk,” Wolf wrote. “Similarly, such groups can pressure their financiers, as Kristof has done by exposing Goldman Sachs. But there is a unique role for law enforcement. And as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer, that responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders. This administration needs to make this a priority.”