Two Illinois politicians announced their support Monday to end sex trafficking and prohibit sex ads online.
Sen. Mark Kirk and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez unveiled legislation that would ban websites like Backpage.com from selling online sex ads promoting prostitution and human trafficking.
“As President Obama has said, it’s time to call human trafficking what it really is – modern day slavery,” Kirk said. “Illinois was the first state in the nation to ratify the 13th amendment that abolished slavery – it makes sense for Illinois to lead the nation in a bipartisan effort to end human trafficking. We can start by putting an end to sex ads on websites like Backpage.com.”
The controversial website acts as an advertising bulletin similar to Craigslist. Its “adult services” section makes it easy for pimps to advertise victims of sex trafficking, including children. Craigslist previously had a similar "adult entertainment" section, but it was recently shut down. According to a press release from Kirk’s office, Backpage.com is responsible for more than 70 percent of prostitution advertisements in the United States.
Kirk will introduce the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act in the Senate this week. The legislation would close the loophole that allows sites like Backpage.com to run ads that could aid the sex trafficking industry. Under Sen. Kirk’s legislation, the federal government would be able to prosecute Backpage.com and similar sites.
The legislation would allow the U.S. Attorney to shut down advertisements on those websites that promote underage sex. If convicted, offenders could also receive up to five years in prison.
According to the University of Illinois, between 16,000 and 25,000 women and girls are involved in the commercial sex trade every year in the Chicago area. More than half of these women and girls are involved by the age of 18.
Alvarez said she is working at the state level to end the sale of prostitution online in Chicago and Cook County. She previously helped draft the Illinois Safe Children's Act aimed at protecting child victims of sex trafficking.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart also provided support for the new legislation.
“Forums like Backpage have become playgrounds for pimps and traffickers, facilitating the destruction of countless lives in the process,” Dart said. “While we all know Backpage’s business model is immoral, it should be illegal as well.”