*Originally Posted on 10/7/2016

The CEO of Backpage.com, a popular marketplace for online commercial sex, was arrested on Thursday in Houston on orders from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and charged with conspiracy and pimping of minors. Advocates have long argued that Backpage.com is linked to sex trafficking activity, particularly the sex trafficking of children, throughout the United States. CEO, Carl Ferrer and company founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin will all face charges filed in the California Superior Court. Backpage.com is also being investigated in Texas on suspicion of money-laundering.

Unfortunately, the buying and selling of children for sex is not uncommon in our communities and is a direct result of the highly profitable commercial sex trade that is present across the state. Websites like Backpage.com facilitate the ongoing exploitation of children through the commercial sex industry where greater demand for purchased sex results in greater need for supply to fulfill it.

Pimps target particularly vulnerable individuals with the purpose of “turning them out” to a life of prostitution. Pimps have self-reported that they will seek out children with obvious signs of neglect, abuse and low self-esteem and will begin an indoctrination process that eventually leads to their commercial sexual exploitation. With this process in mind, it is not surprising that a high number of prostituted individuals enter the life under the age of 18 or that 60% of children reported missing are suspected to have been sex trafficked. Pimps control these highly vulnerable children to such an extent that their self-worth is completely and sometimes irrevocably connected to the pimp and the amount of money they make for them.

For these reasons, the economic climate of the commercial sex industry opens the door for the violent, continuous and purposeful sexual exploitation of thousands of children in the United States each year.

This arrest will hopefully bring to light that Texas is not immune to the sexual exploitation of children through the commercial sex industry. According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute, the underground commercial sex economy in Dallas produces $100 million in profits annually. Although only a small percentage of individuals buy sex, in an industry where greater exploitation leads to greater profit we must understand that demand fuels the supply for “young and petite” and “barely legal” sex and in turn the devastating victimization of thousands of children. If no one bought sex this industry would cease to exist.

CHILDREN AT RISK commends the law enforcement bodies from Texas and California that were involved in this operation and calls on ALL Texans to come together to stop sex buying. If you are a sex buyer you must understand the role you play in this equation. Your buying choices make you an implicit participant in the sex trafficking of our communities’ most vulnerable children. If you are a business owner, commit to a zero tolerance policy for employees using company resources to purchase commercial sex. If you are a community member, stand up and say we aren’t buying it.

CHILDREN AT RISK serves as a catalyst for change to improve the quality of life for children through strategic research, public policy analysis, education, collaboration and advocacy and is a member of CEASE Network North Texas a nationwide pilot initiative of Demand Abolition, an organization committed to the eradication of the illegal commercial sex industry in the U.S. by addressing demand for purchased sex.

Like CHILDREN AT RISK’s Statewide page or North Texas page on Facebook, and follow @childrenatrisk on Twitter to receive updates.

Interested in learning more? CHILDREN AT RISK is hosting two upcoming events in North Texas