Portman, Carper, McCaskill Send DOJ Criminal Referral for Backpage.com

July 13, 2017 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) announced that they recommended the Department of Justice investigate Backpage.com.  In a letter, the three senators say they believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal review by the Department of Justice.  The request follows a two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) inquiry, led by Sen. Portman and Sen. McCaskill, which culminated in a report entitled “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” which found that Backpage knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits.  

“Today we are calling on the Department of Justice to join the fight for the thousands of innocent victims of sex trafficking,” Senator Portman said.  “The Subcommittee’s bipartisan investigation culminated in a hearing and report that showed that Backpage has been more deeply complicit in online sex trafficking than anyone had imagined.  I support the Communications Decency Act and the cause of internet freedom, but it’s clear to me that the CDA was never intended to protect those who knowingly facilitate criminal activity – and in this case knowingly facilitate the sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls.  I look forward to the results of the Department of Justice criminal review.  I will continue working with my bipartisan colleagues to introduce legislation that will fix this problem once and for all, and help ensure we are doing everything possible to save men, women, and children from the scourge that is sex trafficking.”

“Online sex trafficking is a horrendous crime. Victims are often trapped in dangerous, inhumane conditions and imprisoned by physical or mental coercion that makes escape difficult, if not impossible,” Senator Carper said. “Today, following the two-year investigation spearheaded by Senators Portman and McCaskill, we’re calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Backpage for its apparent solicitation and facilitation of this atrocious crime. I commend my colleagues for their commitment to shedding light on this issue and for their work to bring justice to the victims. I urge the Department of Justice to follow their lead and pursue any possible charges against Backpage.”

“Backpage knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking, including of children—turning a profit from ripping families apart while falsely claiming what they were doing was protected by our Constitution,” said McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor. “We’ve taken our pursuit of justice to the floor of the U.S. Senate and the halls of the Supreme Court, and today begins the next chapter in our fight, as we enlist the help of the Department of Justice to pursue criminal charges against the company.”

NOTE: Portman and McCaskill, the chairman and ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) during the 114th Congress, began their bipartisan investigation of sex trafficking on the Internet in April 2015. With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, Backpage is a market leader in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children.  On January 10, 2017, the Subcommittee held a hearing and issued a report detailing how Backpage knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking and then covered up evidence of these crimes.  Portman, McCaskill and other bipartisan members are working to introduce legislation designed to hold accountable websites that knowingly facilitate this type of criminal exploitation.

Full text of the letter they sent the Department of Justice today can be found below and here.

July 13, 2017

Hon. Jeff Sessions

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

Earlier this year, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded a two-year investigation into the problem of sex trafficking on the Internet.  Pursuant to Subcommittee Rule 19, because we have determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that violations of law may have occurred in connection with these matters, the Subcommittee is referring our November 19, 2015 and January 10, 2017 reports on this subject and related information to the Department of Justice for additional investigation.  Key testimonial and documentary evidence regarding these matters appear in the staff reports, hearing records, and publicly released documents.  Additional nonpublic information from the Subcommittee investigation is available upon request.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters.



Rob Portman                                                                                    Tom Carper
Chairman                                                                                          Ranking Member

Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations                            Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations


Claire McCaskill

Ranking Member

Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Ranking Member, 114th Congress

Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations