The controversial adult services section on a popular classified ad website has shut down after years of public and government pressure, and on the same day that a Senate report alleged it masked child sex trafficking and prostitution.
Backpage.com's "adult" listing pages now show the word "censored" in prominent red lettering at the top of the page. There are also prompts that take to you the website's response to eliminating the adult services ads and for websites encouraging free speech.
In September 2016, NBC 7 San Diego told the story of a young single mother who said she was marketed and sold as a prostitute on the website.
Backpage claims the government is unconstitutionally censoring the site — the result of "extra-legal tactics" from the Senate investigations subcommittee and others, according to a news release, though the release also said removing the pages was Backpage's own decision.
San Diego Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan sent a statement to NBC 7 in response, saying, "Their claim of government censorship is bogus. Shutdown of their site will result in much fewer victims whose enslavement is hidden by the social media platform of Backpage."
Stephan calls Backpage the largest internet brothel, responsible for the purchase and sale of minors for sex.
Backpage claims the pressure "undermines efforts by Backpage.com to cooperate with law enforcement and provide information to identify, arrest and prosecute those who engage in human trafficking," according to its statement.
The crackdown on the website Monday comes hours after the release of a U.S. Senate report that accused Backpage of editing some of the ads to help disguise content that indicated sex for sale.
NBC News reported that the Senate committee's inquiry found evidence that Backpage knowingly facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking.
The company's CEO was arrested in October on felony pimping charges. An attorney for Backpage called the arrest "an election year stunt" at the time.
NBC 7 previously interviewed sex trafficking survivor Jaimee Johnson.
Johnson said she was sold into prostitution and for five years amassed customers in several southern California cities by placing ads on Backpage.
Johnson is now an advocate, working to expose the horrors of sex trafficking for the last two-and-a-half years.
“These people need to look at their daughters and look at their sisters and their wives and mothers and remember that these women are no different than that and they definitely shouldn't be used as sexual commodities or expendable products," Johnson said.
The shutdown also comes one day before Backpage's founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin and the site's CEO, Carl Ferrer, were expected to testify before the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.