Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Wednesday blasted Village Voice Media, the owner various alternative publications, for not closing down the adult entertainment section of its classifieds website.
"One of the strategies we've discussed today is naming and shaming," he said at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on human trafficking. "There is an issue I've been involved in along with eighteen other colleagues of mine, and others I think who have joined since then, in regards to Village Voice Media."
"As you know, the classified website Backpage.com is the leading U.S. website for prostitution advertising," Rubio continued. "It is estimated that they make about $25 million a year off of these ads."
Critics have attacked the classifieds website for allegedly facilitating child prostitution. The National Association of Attorneys General has found more than 50 instances nationwide of charges filed against people trafficking minors on Backpage.
"The bottom is that we know that on the leading advertiser in this country of adult services, children -- 14 years of age and younger, 15-year-old girls -- are being advertised and their services are being advertised," Rubio said. "It is grotesque, it is unacceptable, disgusting. There is no First Amendment protection for child pornography and child trafficking and prostitution."
He add that everyone at the hearing had the "obligation" to shame Village Voice Media into "doing the right thing."
When the classifieds website Craiglist.com encountered similar allegations, it agreed to shut down its "erotic services" section. But Backpage has refused to follow suit. The website said it reviews entries before they are posted and notifies law enforcement of illegal activities.
"Backpage.com already employs a triple-tiered policing system that includes automated filtering and two levels of manual review of the adult and personal categories." Liz McDougall, general counsel of Village Voice Media, said in May. "It also responds to law-enforcement subpoenas within 24 hours or less in almost all cases. It uses its own technological tools to voluntarily collect and submit additional evidence to law enforcement from across the Internet. And it is ready to do more."
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