In Historic Vote, U.S. Senate Unanimously Backs McCaskill-Portman Measure to Hold ‘Backpage’ Website in Contempt of Congress


MARCH 17, 2016 

Contact: Sarah Feldman – 202-228-6263 

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WASHINGTON – In an historic vote, the Senate today unanimously approved a bipartisan resolution from U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill and Rob Portman to launch civil contempt proceedings against the website Backpage, as part of the duo’s bipartisan investigation into online sex trafficking. 

“The contempt that Backpage has shown for our bipartisan investigation has now been met with the unanimous contempt of the full U.S. Senate,” said McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor who is the top-ranking Democrat on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. “This historic vote makes a clear statement—we are fully committed to getting to the bottom of this company’s business practices and policies for preventing the trafficking of children, and we will get these answers.” 

The last time the Senate approved civil contempt proceedings was 1995. Today’s Senate vote was 96-0. The Senate’s Legal Counsel can now bring a suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to ask the court to directly order compliance with the subpoena. The measure also cleared the Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs by a unanimous vote last month. Click HERE to read more on the contempt proceedings and what happens next. 

Today’s resolution had the support of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children—whose President and CEO, in a letter to McCaskill and Portman, wrote: “…I am writing to express our strong support for your resolution… We commend you for your leadership on this investigation and your dedication to assisting victims of child sex trafficking and their families… More than seventy-one percent (71%) of all child sex trafficking reports submitted by members of the public to NCMEC relate to Backpage ads… The work of your Subcommittee to investigate these practices and to demand answers is to be widely commended. NCMEC is proud to lend our support to this important resolution…” 

McCaskill and Portman, the panel’s Republican Chairman, led a Senate hearing in November to target online sex trafficking, particularly trafficking of children, and demand answers from Backpage. Carl Ferrer, Chief Executive Officer of Backpage, failed to obey a subpoena compelling his attendance at that hearing, a failure which Portman called “truly extraordinary.” 

McCaskill also used that hearing to tell the story of a 15-year-old girl rescued from sex traffickers in St. Louis, Mo.: “Four months ago, a 15-year-old girl walked into Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, and asked for help. Along with four other girls between the ages of 12 and 18, she had been sold for sex at truck stops across Missouri, Florida, Texas, and New Mexico for almost two months. She was lucky to be alive. According to her police report, another girl traveling with her during those months had died in her arms. The 15-year-old girl who walked into Cardinal Glennon, like the majority of children who are sold for sex in the United States today, was trafficked using Backpage.”  

McCaskill is the top-ranking Democrat on the subcommittee—which was formerly the “Truman Committee.” It is the Senate’s most powerful body for investigations and oversight and includes broad subpoena power. Relying on her experience as a courtroom prosecutor, McCaskill led the successful effort to reform the military justice system to curb sexual assaults in the U.S. military, and is helping lead a bipartisan effort to curb sexual violence on college and university campuses. 

Visit to see more about McCaskill’s work to curb domestic and sexual violence.