CHICAGO (CBS) — Backpage.com, a website at the center of a sex and human trafficking investigation, may be offline, but authorities say other copycat websites are now posing the same threat.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who led the charge against backpage.com, said he expected copycat websites to pop up. He said his goal is not necessarily to eliminate them, but rather, to disrupt them.
Seized since April, backpage.com, the site accused of helping traffic children and adults for sex, is part of a criminal case; but six months later, others are now offering the same type of services, taking its place.
“The actual design of the site is a little different, but it is pretty much the same,” said Dart. “They dress it up, they add phony ads to make it look like they’ve got a lot of customers and stuff and they don’t. Ones that may be real ads in there, I guarantee you, every single of them is prostitution and trafficking.”
A new website is using the backpage name, prominently advertising the similarities.
If you attempt to find a job or buy a computer, a click will get you nothing; but if you head over to “adult services,” the list is long.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who helped bring down backpage.com, said he is not surprised or discouraged.
“Now you have all these little knockoff sites. There’s more chaos. There’s less normalcy to it. The people looking for people to buy don’t know where to go. That’s what we wanted. We wanted them to have a difficult time to commit crimes,” Dart said, adding adult ads prior to backpage’s demise usually garnered 17 calls. Now he said the average is three.
“More can always be done. More should be done, but it is further along than we were before,” said Bahavani Raveendran.
Bhavani Raveendran is one attorney representing Yvonne Ambrose, 16-year-old Desiree Robinson’s mother, in her battle against Backpage.com.
Robinson was brutally murdered in 2016 after police say a man acting as her pimp sold her on the site. Ambrose spoke before a Senate committee, helping change laws that previously protected those behind trafficking websites.
On the phone, Ambrose told CBS 2 that authorities cannot get complacent now.
“I feel she’s smiling down, saying keep fighting for me and keep fighting for everyone else, too,” Ambrose said on the phone.
The Sheriff said his office is continuing to use bots and post fake prostitution and trafficking ads on various websites to track activity and, in some cases, make arrests.