For years, investigators have perused the profiles of Backpage.com looking for sex workers.
Federal authorities recently seized Backpage’s domain. The company pleaded guilty Thursday to human trafficking charges in Texas.
Backpage’s founder and five others are facing federal charges for what prosecutors say was a scheme to facilitate prostitution.
The Backpage shut down is seen as a victory for those fighting sex trafficking, but it has also prompted fear of where prostitutes and pimps will look to advertise their services.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see how they’ll adapt and we’ll adapt with them,” Utah Attorney General’s Office Assistant Chief Nate Mutter told 2News. “The demand is going to be there, what this will do is slow the supply side down a bit.”
Law enforcement sources tell 2News they expect to see an increase in prostitution on the streets and on online dating apps.
“My guess is a lot of advertisement from Backpage will find its way to more applications,” Mutter said. “People need to be aware of that they can accidentally find themselves being involved in trafficking.”
Mutter says sex traffickers are manipulative and may try and extort online dating app users. If that happens, he says, app users should save the conversations and contact police.
“Even if it might be embarrassing, it’s better to report that stuff,” Mutter said.
Another fear in the wake of the online sex trafficking crackdown is that the sex trade may be pushed into the ‘dark web’, making it more difficult for law enforcement and sex trafficking rescue organizations to monitor.