Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and advocacy groups have long called for an investigation into Backpage.com for allegedly facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking. However, a judge decided that the federal case should remain sealed on Friday night.
The disabled site's co-owner Michael Lacey's home was reportedly raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a tweet by Evan Wyloge of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. It's a legal gray area as the agreement is made for companionship rather than sex, but the backpage.com shutdown was due to sex trafficking - which is a pretty cut and dry issue when it comes to discussing legality.
Visitors hoping to browse the site's licentious listings were instead greeted by a Department of Justice takedown notice. "Now, no child will be sold for sex through this website".
The Senate investigation led to a bill - known as FOSTA, for the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act - that passed both houses of Congress last month. The legislation, featured prominently in the popular Netflix documentary I am Jane Doe, amends the Communications Decency Act, which has shielded website operators from state criminal charges or civil liability if they facilitate sex ads or prostitution.
President Donald Trump will sign the bill into law next week, said Heitkamp.
The downfall of the online nerve center for sex trafficking prompted celebrations from victim advocates.
There would be "a dramatic shift in the marketplace starting tonight", he added.
"This sends a clear message to any other website who thinks they are going to pick up where Backpage left off, that they too are going to be held accountable for profiting on the backs of vulnerable women", Jimenez said.
Backpage brought its owners $135 million in revenue in 2014 alone, according to the New York Times.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently testified before Congress that almost three-quarters of the cases it has reviewed are linked to ads on Backpage.
The site was largely a draw for its sex ads, and sex workers expressed dismay on Twitter about its closing.
Weeks later, the state of California submitted new allegations to the court, charging Ferrer with money laundering and pimping.