Riverside County Sheriff's detectives say websites that allow users to post sex-for-sale ads are adding to the county's prostitution problem. Tony Shin reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on March 28, 2013.
Social media is adding to the prostitution problem in Riverside County, according to sheriff's investigators with the human trafficking division.
They say websites, like Backpage.com, allow pimps to advertise sex for sale.
"And they can get anything via these websites," Sgt. John Sawyer said, "any fetish imaginable."
Three weeks ago, Sawyer’s team recovered a 14-year-old runaway girl in Moreno Valley after finding a sex ad for her on Backpage.com. A woman was arrested for allegedly helping prostitute the girl.
These kinds of crimes are happening more often because a growing number of websites are allowing sex-for-sale ads, authorities said. Backpage.com has a disclaimer which tells users they must agree to report any illegal activity to the authorities, especially if it involves the sexual exploitation of children.
Some websites go as far as to have a ratings system where "Johns" can post the quality of their sexual encounters.
These kinds of websites may seem like they’re illegal, but that’s not the case.
“There’s really nothing illegal about offering sexual services, talking about sexual services and meeting someone for a sexual encounter but then once money is exchanged then we have a prostitution case,” Lt. Jon Anderson said.
In other words, authorities have to catch the prostitute in the act of exchanging money to make an arrest.
And money, according to Sawyer, is the reason why many website owners won’t ban people from posting sex ads.
"They’re making a lot of money doing this," he said.
State attorneys general from across the nation have signed a letter asking websites like Backpage.com to stop allowing users to post sex ads. In 2010, Craigslist cracked down on the postings, apparently prompted by public pressure to do so.
Backpage.com did not return NBC4’s requests for comment by the time of publication.
Anyone with information about sex trafficking crimes is asked to contact the Riverside County Sheriff's Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.