Opponents to human trafficking: CEO arrest could be game changer

Cutting down on human trafficking

"You see a dad who sees their daughter on Backpage - they break down in a way you can't give proper credit to the pain."

Dottie Laster is among vocal opponents of human trafficking. She leads the Heidi Search Center and Friday said that the arrest of Backpage.com CEO could be a game changer.

Carl Ferrar headed to California from Texas to face charges that kids and adults were forced into prostitution through escort ads on his company's website.

Laster compared Ferrar's arrest to winning a battle but not the war against sex trafficking.

A majority of the missing person's cases at the center are linked to trafficking. She says that her searches often lead her to Backpage.com.

"I will sometimes find them being advertised while we're looking for them," Laster noted.

"We do believe there were children involved in this," said Attorney General Ken Paxton shortly after the arrest.

Ferrar was taken into custody in Houston on Thursday after landing from Amsterdam. Investigators also raided the company's headquarters in Dallas.

"It's fairly common. And, quite frankly, I don't know what else Backpage is used for other than that purpose," said Sgt. Jesse Salame with the San Antonio Police Department.

The website is no stranger to SAPD. Online, Backpage.com urges people to report trafficking, even though police say that's what investigators found it linked to.

"They won't necessarily advertise they are selling sex but advertise for something else like companionship," Sgt. Salame said.

Ferrar's attorney Phillip Hilder said he's going to California, where authorities say he was under investigation for three years. California investigators joined forces with Texas several months ago for the investigation and arrest.

"He's eagerly looking forward to responding to the allegations and to vigorously fighting the charges that have been levied against him," Hilder said.

"All the families who reached out to me last night - the victims directly asking, ‘What do we do? Who do we tell?’" Laster explained.

Laster hopes the arrest is a chance to breathe new life into the fight against human trafficking.

"This is the point in history that we decide we are not going to let people be sold for sex," Laster said.

KENS 5 also talked to other law enforcement agencies who said that Backpage.com did cooperate during their investigations.

On Friday, Backpage responded with this statement:

"The raid of Backpage.com's Dallas office and the arrest of its CEO is an election year stunt, not a good-faith action by law enforcement. The complaint and search warrant make clear that (1) prostitution ads violate Backpage.com's policies against the posting of illegal content, (2) the company blocked the posting of ads using terms that violated those policies, and (3) Backpage.com removed ads when contacted by law enforcement. The actions of the California and Texas Attorneys General are flatly illegal. They ignore the holdings of numerous federal courts that the First Amendment protects the ads on Backpage.com. The actions of the Attorneys General also violate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act preempting state actions such as this one and immunizing web hosts of third-party created content. Backpage.com will take all steps necessary to end this frivolous prosecution and will pursue its full remedies under federal law against the state actors who chose to ignore the law, as it has done successfully in other cases.”


© 2017 KENS-TV


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