Online sex market Backpage was seized in April following new regulation intended to stem human trafficking, but the results haven’t been entirely positive. This story of Indianapolis cops reverting to pre-web tactics for catching pimps and others in the sex trade shows how the closure has taken away a valuable tool for keeping tabs on the unsavory but ineradicable industry.
Backpage, where prostitutes would list themselves and attract customers, let the whole business take place rather in gig economy fashion rather than out on the street.
As controversial as the sex industry is, it’s not going anywhere, and at the very least most of us can agree that it should at least be conducted as safely as possible. And Backpage did at least provide some level of safety and regularity to it, even if it also contributed to worse issues like sex trafficking.
“We used to look at Backpage as a trap for human traffickers and pimps,” explained undercover vice investigator John Daggy to RTV6. “We would subpoena the ads and it would tell a lot of the story. Now, since it has gone down, we’re getting late reports of them and we don’t have much to go by.”
As evidence, in 2017 Indianapolis cops charged four pimps using Backpage data, and dozens of prostitution cases used it as well. But this year only one pimp has been charged, caught via old-school undercover work: a cop posing as a prospective prostitute.
That may be what the movies present vice investigations as, but the truth is that kind of work is extremely dangerous, not to mention time-consuming and difficult. Having a nice digital trail to follow or cite in court was clearly a godsend.
As critics noted earlier this year, SESTA/FOSTA has good intentions but a seriously flawed execution resulting in numerous unforeseen consequences. This decline in police effectiveness in vice investigations is one of them.
“I get the reasoning behind it, and the ethics behind it,” Daggy said. “However, it has blinded us.”
You should read the rest of the story, as it has context from others and is part of a series on the sex trade in the city.