JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - UPDATE (4/7): Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley released the following statement Saturday afternoon on Backpage.com:
“This is a critical step in our efforts to end human trafficking. Backpage.com has been an enabler of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a scourge on our society. My message to traffickers is: We will find you and we will bring you to justice.
This is a big step forward, but our work must go on. These criminals will continue to look for ways to exploit young women and men. We cannot take our eye off the ball. That’s why I have a message for anyone intending to set up shop in Missouri to enable human trafficking - we will not be intimidated, we will track you down, and bring you to justice.”
ORIGINAL: Federal authorities have seized website Backpage.com, according to a notice posted on the website Friday.
The notice says "Backpage.com and affiliated websites have been seized."
There's no reason listed for the seizure but ABC 17 News has previously reported on the website's ties to sex trafficking. Lawmakers, including Sen. Claire McCaskill and Attorney Gen. Josh Hawley, have been working to crack down on the website for sometime.
McCaskill released the following statement in response to the seizure:
“This is great news for survivors, advocates, and law enforcement in Missouri and across the country, but it’s also long-overdue, and further proof of why our bipartisan legislation is so critical. State and local law enforcement need this bill to enable them to take swift action against websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking of children online, and to stop the next Backpage long before another website can claim so many innocent victims.”
Last year, the democratic senator joined with Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Tom Carper of Delaware in asking the Department of Justice to investigate Backpage following a two-year Senate investigation into the website.
Like McCaskill, Nanette Ward with the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, said "it's about time" that the website was seized.
"There's plenty of evidence that they have knowingly facilitated the online sale of people for sexual purposes," she said. "[What's] especially concerning is the children who have been sold on Backpage."
The seizure comes after the Senate passed anti-sex trafficking legislation. Backpage had previously argued that it was protected under the Communication Decency Act, which protects websites from liability for material posted by third parties.
"We had to kind of catch up with ourselves and not let this be a loophole," Ward said.
While advocates said the seizure is a victory, Ward said it's not going to stop sex trafficking and there's a lot more work to be done.
"Absolutely, this is tricky, messy stuff. It's not going to be a clean cut, okay, this has been seized, so we know that's not going to happen anymore. But we have to take a stand. And if we don't seize, we're saying, it's okay we know you're doing this."