HOUSTON-- "If you're involved in human trafficking or buying sex in Houston," scowls a Houston Police officer in a new public service announcement, "you will be prosecuted." Nobody knows that better than Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer.
You have probably never heard of Backpage unless you're on the down low. It's a website like Craigslist, only they run ads for sex workers.
Ferrer was arrested Thursday at Bush Intercontinental Airport. The alleged sleazeball is charged with sex trafficking, pimping kids and money laundering.
"Backpage.com seems to have knowingly and willingly allowed women and children to be exploited in return for its own financial gain," said Ken Paxton, Texas' Attorney General at a press conference after the arrest. "Profits from this sinister line of advertising registers in the millions of dollars annually."
"Houston is in the top five cities in the nation for sex trafficking," according to Micah Bailey. She is the director of operations at Elijah Rising, a group that's been combating human trafficking in Houston for six years. They reach out to prostitutes and pimps on the streets, hoping to get them out of the life.
There are about 300 to 500 postings per day in Houston, and those are individual women who are being trafficked by pimps on Backpage.
"The youngest child that's been found on Backpage.com was 7 years old," Bailey said. "There was a study from Arizona State University in 2014 and they found up to 80% of the ads were selling minors on Backpage."
Elijah Rising also does van tours of the city to show people brothels are all around us.
"We see it in Memorial, in Katy, Cypress, Spring. We see it in the Ship Channel," said Bailey. "We see it right here where we're standing which is Galleria East End."
Will Ferrer's arrest and prosecution put an end to that? Not likely, but it's a start.
"They're not only going after the CEO but they're going after the stakeholders, which is brilliant," said Bailey, with a little glint of satisfaction in her eyes. "They've made millions and millions of dollars off the sale of our daughters, off of our children, so it is time for Backpage.com to come down."