Since federal authorities shut down Backpage.com, three other websites have come to dominate the online sex-for-sale industry and have been the subjects of a years-long investigation by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, The Wall Street Journal reports. The agencies are investigating whether the sites have engaged in or knowingly enabled human trafficking, prostitution and money-laundering, and what ties they may have with David Azzato, a Swiss businessman.
Closing Backpage last year culminated several years of effort by law-enforcement officials, who accused the site of being a hub for prostitution and sex trafficking. Days after the site was shut down in April 2018, new federal legislation took effect prohibiting websites from intentionally promoting prostitution or knowingly facilitating sex trafficking. Evidence submitted in several sex-trafficking cases have named two sites, Rubmaps and Eros, as websites used by the alleged traffickers to advertise victims. Rubmaps and a third site under investigation, EroticMonkey, were the two most visited review sites that month, according to ChildSafe.ai, which performed the analysis and provides data and other tools to help law enforcement combat sex trafficking. U.S. authorities say that since the 2018 law took effect, a number of sex-for-sale websites have moved to jurisdictions outside the U.S. Website domains registered abroad may be outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement. But officials can request information from their U.S.-based technology providers and can seize those accounts through a court order, which could interrupt the websites’ operations. U.S. officials can also seek to prosecute individuals who own or run sites they allege are breaking U.S. laws.