PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI/AP) — Local efforts to put a stop to online sex trafficking have resulted in numerous arrests over the past few months, and the city of Providence is now also joining a nationwide campaign against the website Backpage.com.
The classified ad website has been at the center of an undercover operation by Providence police dubbed “Operation Backpage.” The first sting in April netted 22 arrests, and additional efforts since then have led to 20 more.
Mayor Jorge Elorza says the website has created a vehicle for the sex trade, specifically women and children.
“Backpage.com is a vehicle for criminal activity, including human trafficking, which preys on the children and the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Mayor Elorza. “This cannot be allowed to continue. We will bring those who use the site for crime to justice and push for the legal tools to stop Backpage.com at the source.”
Elorza also stressed how the use of Backpage can lead to other criminal activity. In March, Providence resident Ashley Masi was strangled to death after a man responded to her online ad for escort services, according to police.
Cities around the country are filing briefs in a federal appeals court to support a lawsuit against the website, the mayor announced Thursday.
While the City Solicitor’s Office pursues legal action against Backpage.com, Elorza said city police continue to monitor the site’s traffic.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a brief Monday, asking a federal appeals court to reverse a district court decision dismissing a case filed against the website.
The case involves three women who allege they were sold for sex on Backpage.com when they were as young as 15.
The women allege they were recruited by sex traffickers, advertised on the website, and then repeatedly sold for sex across Massachusetts.
Lawyers for the website have said that the company does more than any other online classified site to prevent the trafficking of minors.The Associated Press contributed to this report.