Murder victim Afrikka Hardy’s ad on Backpage.com is one of thousands posted daily to the website offering sex for money.
The 19-year-old woman was one of seven women, all sex workers, found dead in Northwest Indiana over the weekend, the victims of a suspected serial killer.
At this point, officials say the website, an online classified advertising site allowing ads for “adult services,” is legal, and very lucrative.
According to Aimgroup, which tracks online activity and revenue, in May of 2013 the website took in $4.5 million.
Police say Darren Vann answered Hardy’s ad then killed her during “rough sex” in a motel room in Hammond. He was charged in her murder Monday, officials said.
In January, Alisha Walker posted an ad for sex online. She’s now accused of killing the man who answered the ad, Brother Rice teacher Alan Filan.
In an ongoing NBC 5 Investigates series on sex trafficking in the Chicago area in April, a young prostitute talked of posting an ad on backpage, and getting raped.
“Backpage has become sort of a leader now in facilitating prostitution,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
Dart and Senator Mark Kirk, along with attorney generals from 49 states, have fought to have Backpage take down the ads, but have so far had no luck.
Backpage says it is protected by the communications decency act, which was intended to stop online sites from being sued because content posted on their sites. They’ve successfully fought challenged, but that could change.
A case filed against Backpage by three teenagers trafficked allegedly through the site, is being heard by the Washington State Supreme Court.
An attorney for Backpage declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Kirk has also introduced legislation that would make it illegal to sell sex trade advertising. The legislation is now in committee and similar legislation has passed the house.