In 2017, the FBI shut down a Seattle based website called The Review Board, which had been described as “Yelp” for sex trafficking. Seattle’s sex buyers could review prostituted persons they had frequented. The FBI charged many of the sex buyers who had identified themselves on the site through a several month long sting, and did not charge any of the women, referring them instead to social services (The Seattle Times, July 26, 2017). This is an example of an effective police-led approach focused on victims of prostitution.
Yet, the most significant development in this sector was the FBI’s seizure and closure of the Backpage website, which specialized in dating and paid sexual services ads. With the adoption of the SESTA and FOSTA laws in April 2018, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are now held responsible for the publication of human trafficking ads on their websites. On April 6th, 2018, the FBI seized the website Backpage and its affiliated sites, and indicted several high level site officials with charges ranging from money laundering to facilitating the prostitution of others. The CEO of Backpage, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution in California, Texas, and federal charges in Arizona. He faced a sentence of up to five years in prison (Reuters, April 6, 2018).