What Happened to Backpage?
It has been almost a year since the Department of Justice siezed Backpage.
Backpage.com was a site similar to craigslist, with one exception. The top selling item on Backpage was sold by those working in what Kipling dubbed the most ancient profession in the world.
So what happened to Backpage? It wasn’t shut down due to the legality issue of prostitution in some states. Rather the FBI claimed Backpage’s main use was to act as a smokescreen for the trafficking of underage sex slaves.
Well, since the demise of Backpage, what does the current landscape of internet sex sales look like?
A quick google search found a few alternatives. There are even sites ranking the alternatives by popularity.
But how many of these sites are actually legitimate and how many are taking advantage of the almost $135 million annually in ad revenue Backpage was generating? (The FBI estimates near $500 million in total ad revenue.)
Finding a Real Backpage Replacement
So as not to become an advertisement for one of these copycat sites, we will label them sites A-E.
Site A was the closest to Backpage in name. The look of the site is also virtually identical to Backpage. That is where the similarities ended. The site is full of cam models, subscription sites, and spam. One such ad claims to be from the President of a sorority looking for ‘help’ to haze a few pledges. The ad is for an STD free male between the of 18- 55 and claims, “You will have some fun!”
If you believe that, I have some land to sell you…
There is, however, an air of legitimacy to site A. The site does seem to support unregluated ad posts. There were simply no ads currently availaible that fit the bill.
Site B actually has Backpage in the URL. As expected, since the site owners were brazen enough to use Backpage in the name, the sexual solicitations are immediate and overt.
Initial impressions were this would be another spam site. However, sprinkled in between the spam were real local phone numbers. Site B currently has real workers at a 1 out of 15 posts rate.
2 out of the 4 called answered AND set up an appointment. One informed us she was no longer in Maryland and the remaining one did not answer.
Site D & E
Sites D and E are both crony networks set up to generate ad revenue. There was no attempt to even give the appearance of offering a non-spammy service.
Site C is the most creative of the bunch. However, it requires signup so doesn’t seem suited to users attempting to fly under the radar of the next inevitable DOJ shut down.
This platform is massive and not as ad riddled as the two prior sites. But it still falls short of the comprehensive network Backpage was able to set up.
After navigating through site C (strictly for research purposes), we reached out to several sex workers asking for an interview.
Two responded back.
The first of the the two indicated that an hour was $120 and it did not matter if we talked, played cards, or screwed. The price is still $120.
The second entertained the notion after ascertaining the topic. She agreed to the interview as long as she remains anonymous and we keep the interview short.
Interview with a Former Backpage Sex Worker
For the purpose of anonymity, we will call her Lalun.
Oliver Hayes: Let’s dive right into it. Can you tell me how you got into this business?
Lalun: I don’t really have a story… I was doing it anyway when I was like 15. Almost 16 though. I was dating this man that was like 20 years older than me. He used to buy me stuff and give me money before we went back to his house and did whatever. I guess that’s where it started from.
OH: Do you consider that
Lalun: (hesitates) The first time I just wanted to do it. The more and more we did it though it was more like an exchange.
OH: Was that the only situation like that you had pre-18?
OH: Were the other ones more like the situation you had with him
Lalun: I don’t really know. It
OH: Got it… Let’s move forward a little bit. How did you get clients when you started? Were you on Backpage?
Lalun: Yeah! Backpage, Craigslist, POF, friends… However I could get’em..
OH: You mean your friends are you clients too?
Lalun: Yea some of’em.
OH: So how did Backpage shutting down affect you?
Lalun: It didn’t really. I had to go on the street more at first but my money was good still. Some girls was sayin they’re not makin money anymore but that didn’t happen to me.
OH: You found a replacement for Backpage?
Lalun: Yea a few of’em.
end of interview
Lalun declined to comment when asked directly about which sites she uses as a Backpage replacement.
What Happened to Backpage: Remnants of Prohibition
It is clear, however, when it comes to internet sex trafficking, getting rid of it is kind of like removing gray hairs. Pluck one out and five more seem to take its place.
So is the strategy of the DOJ to go after sites viable?
One important takeaway from Lalun is, the federal seizure of Backpage led her back to working on the street. Even if it was, for her, a short time, how many others made their way back to street corners and stayed?
Did the Backpage closure merely shift the location where girls were being trafficked?
It almost seems as if the shut down was counterproductive in actually stopping young girls from being trafficked.
It is increasingly difficult to police the net. The loss of Backpage seems to have created a vacuum that was quickly filled. Now, in a sloppy attempt to slay the hydra, the DOJ may have created more heads they will eventually need to deal with.
The monetary success of sites like Backpage seems to only fuel the growth of similar business models. What happened to Backpage will inevitably happen with its replacements but u