Professor: 80% of adult ads on backpage.com sell sex

Phoenix, AZ|Heroes & Activism|Add Comment
By: Lindsey Reiser, CBS5
Dominique Roe-Sepowitz
Arizona State University Professor

An ASU professor has teamed with the Phoenix Police Department to crack the codes of classified ads that are suspected of pimping underage girls.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz worked hand-in-hand with Phoenix police to learn the language used in these ads, all in an effort to learn about the modern-day sex business and how to rescue these men and women.

"Prostitution doesn't look as it did five years ago or even 10 years ago," said Roe-Sepowitz.

She and her students printed out a week's worth of Phoenix Backpage.com ads in the adult services section.

"It's really sad, people who are desperate, who are really in tough situations, selling themselves, sometimes we'd see girls with black eyes," she said.

Out of 1,145 Phoenix postings, Roe-Sepowitz said almost 80 percent were selling sex. The rest were for dating sites, massages, johns looking for prostitutes and traffickers selling them. Roe-Sepowitz spotted the salacious ads by learning their language.

"Anything goes, very experienced, sexy, body to body," she said, describing some indicative terms.

Her team also flagged 88 postings - ads they believed were for minor girls.

"We looked for fat in their cheeks, gangly limbs," she said.

"You can do it from your own home, there's anonymity and I'm sure a perceived degree of safety," said Phoenix Police Lt. Tim Gallagher.

He worked with Roe-Sepowitz and together they rescued three minors from just the one-week study and arrested two alleged traffickers. As for how they get away with these illegal postings? Gallagher said there's just more advertisements than their officers can track.

"If we could work 24/7 on this we would," he said.

Liz McDougall, a spokeswoman for The Village Voice, which owns Backpage.com, said there is no formula to finding the illegal ads. She said each entry is viewed by a person before it goes online and they report any minors to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She said advertisements for services like stripping and erotic massages aren't blocked because they are legal.

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