adult-services

Escort services flourish at Backpage.com

April 28, 2011 at 12:50 PM ET

seattle.backpage.com /

Because human nature wants what it wants, the closure of Craigslist's Adult Services section has meant a big boon for Village Voice Media-owned Backpage.com, which has thrived with an "Adult" section overflowing with ads about escorts (male, female and transsexual), body rubs, "adult jobs" and strippers.

The New York Observer recently pored over the classifieds business, which seem to have given new life to the alt-weekly chain, in which racy ads are nothing new. (Full disclosure: I worked at the Village Voice for almost four years.)

The Observer's Kat Stoeffel writes:

Backpage, which is a fraction of the size of Craigslist, is the only popular classifieds site left willing to host the paid escort and body-rub ads that are often thinly veiled fronts for prostitution. In the month after Craigslist closed its erotic services sections under pressure from Congress and state attorneys general, Backpage enjoyed a half-million-visitor bump in traffic, according to Quantcast, and became the No. 1 publisher of escort ads on the Internet. The Aim Group, a media consulting firm, estimated that in January, Backpage brought in $2.1 million in revenue from erotic services ads alone.

Backpage.com's top 20 cities cover most of America's metropolises, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. While it's nowhere near the scale of a Craigslist, with more than 400 cities, you're likely to find it in most states. States that don't have it: Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota (only Fargo in North Dakota has it), Vermont and Wyoming.

In December, Craigslist quietly shut down its Adult Services section in all 700 of its sites in 70 countries due to pressure from lawmakers who complained about the site's laissez-faire attitude toward prostitution and child trafficking. But even then, there were other sections on the site where sex shoppers could still find what they wanted.

In the vacuum of easy places to indulge in paid sexual favors, Backpage flourished. But it hasn't taken long for trouble to follow, as the Observer story leads with a recent prostitution bust in Florida that nabbed 60 would-be Johns who had responded to ads placed in Backpage. Here in Seattle, police found a 17-year-old girl on the site forced to work as a prostitute, prompting an editorial urging the state's legal counsel to join other attorney generals in their campaign to make the site eliminate its adult services section, like they did with Craigslist.  

It's not as though Backpage hides those ads. Pulling up the main page for any city, the adult section is on the right side, sandwiched between the personals and services.

Once you've clicked into the adult section, it doesn't take much scanning to see that the world's oldest profession is in no danger of extinction anytime soon. But first, each visitor has to agree to a disclaimer that they're 18 or older and are aware they're about to expose themselves to "sexual content, including pictorial nudity and adult language."

Numbers and provocative poses abound, as well as shout-outs for specials. In the "adult jobs" sub-sex-tion, ambiguity could be translated into business opportunities both legal and illegal: "Looking for sexy women in the Seattle area interested in earning money through a new agency. Must be 18 or older, hwp, be drama-free and have a great attitude. No experience necessary. Contact us for more details." While a quick scan looks like many are trolling for "models," there are some that are outright pay for pleasure: "Single Male seeking some Adualt [sic] Fun With Hot Female Pays Well."

We'll see if the legal pressure works on Backpage the way it did with Craigslist, or if the profits from those ads come first.

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