A popular classified ads website, known to be used for human trafficking across the country, was shut down Friday.
Backpage.com is a website many law enforcement agencies have used to recover trafficking victims here in San Diego
“The place where they end up being advertised like a piece of pizza is backpage.com” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said.
Backpage was launched in 2004. For years it has denied knowingly facilitating sex trafficking and instead, it says helped authorities track down victims of illegal activities.
“They’ve been told case after case they’ve been given examples of how young innocent kids are being sold on their website but they did not stop,” Stephan said.
On Friday, federal agencies, including the FBI, seized the website as well as its affiliated sites. They posted a notice on the site’s homepage with few details.
The Department of Justice says a court had ruled the case would remain sealed.
“Backpage has profited at hundreds of millions of dollars off the abuse torment and trafficking of children,” Stephan said.
In San Diego, investigators have used reverse technology to track images and other tips to trace victims back to the website.
“Fifteen-, 14-, 13-year-olds, we’ve been able to recover from these websites tattooed, branded, sold like a piece of meat,” Stephan said. “It’s unacceptable.”
The seizure Friday should serve as a warning for owners of websites such as Backpage. They will be held accountable, Stephan said.
“They’re essentially pimps and traffickers themselves,” she said.
NBC News reached out to Backpage for a comment, but a representative could not be reached Friday.