Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange is joining 44 other attorneys general in a call for information on how a website is fighting illegal exploitation of minors.
The website - Backpage.com - mimics popular sites like Craigslist in the way its layout offers options like "automotive", "rentals" and "community". It's the "adult" section that is causing a stir.
In a letter to the online classified site's lawyers, the attorneys general say that Backpage.com claims it has strict policies to prevent illegal activity, but "hundreds of ads found on Backpage.com's regional site are clearly for illegal services."
"It does not require forensic training to understand that these advertisements are for prostitution," the attorneys general wrote.
The AGs' letter says the hub for illegal sex ads is a magnet for those seeking to exploit minors and points to more than 50 cases, in 22 states over three years, involving the trafficking or attempted trafficking of minors through Backpage.com.
"These are only the stories that made it into the news; many more instances likely exist," the attorneys general wrote. They also reminded Backpage.com of a 2010 request from nearly two dozen attorneys general asking that the adult services site be taken down.
AG Strange said kids aren't capable, legally or otherwise, to consent to be sold for sex and regardless of a prostitute's age, it's difficult to know whether the person advertised is being coerced. He said the only way to prevent the illegal activity from taking place is to shut the site down.
Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, LLC, is the top provider of "adult services" advertisements. The multimedia company, which owns 13 weekly newspapers in the United States admits its involvement in advertising illegal services.
In a meeting with staff at the Washington State Attorney General's Office, Village Voice board member Don Moon readily acknowledged prostitution ads appear on the Web site.
In a June 29 article published nationally by the Village Voice, the corporation criticized those concerned about child sex trafficking as "prohibitionists bent on ending the world's oldest profession," acknowledging that, as a seller of adults services ads, "Village Voice has a stake in this story."
Industry analysts suggest that Village Voice's stake in adult services advertisements is worth about $22.7 million in annual revenue.