Federal agents shut down the classified ad web site Backpage.com last week. An indictment accused the site of enabling child sex trafficking.
"Shutting down Backpage, especially with criminal charges, is a major milestone to say the least," said Fort Myers human trafficking counselor Gina Milone. "This is a game-changer."
Milone said Backpage.com was one of the primary online marketplaces where traffickers would sell women and children to men looking for sex. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the site was involved in 73% of suspected child trafficking reports.
Milone said Backpage.com became criminally liable by allegedly revising - but not removing - ads that she said were thinly-veiled solicitations for child sex.
"They would take out words like 'Lolita,' which alludes to someone that's of a young age and of Hispanic descent," she said.
The web site had previously been sued several times, but not successsfully.
While shutting down Backpage might take away one tool used by human traffickers, Milone said they will likely find other ways to sell their victims, such as other web sites or neighborhood brothels.
"Just because you shut down one avenue doesn't mean that you're gong to eliminate all," she said. "Traffickers are smart. It's sadly very hard to catch them, and it's very easy for them to hide."
"But creating a path for criminal charges against people who are enabling traffickers is the first step to creating fear in other social media companies," Milone added.