PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When Ellen Rosenblum was running for Oregon Attorney General three years ago, stopping human sex trafficking was a cornerstone of her campaign. At that time, she delivered a speech to the Washington County Democrats.
“To my surprise the Attorney General’s office isn’t involved at all right now in sex trafficking,” Rosenblum said at that time. “That’s going to change under my watch. I’m going to be working very closely with all of the agencies that are involved to make sure that we eradicate sex trafficking in this state. It’s outrageous, and I’m not going to tolerate it.”
In April 2015, Rosenblum – who recently announced she will run for re-election — was the keynote speaker at a crime victim’s forum and talked about the issue.
“Over the past several years, we’ve gained a better understanding of crimes like sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking,” she said in that recent speech.
There are so many examples of human sex trafficking, often involving teens. Many share one thing in common: Backpage.com
The City of Portland joined a lawsuit against Backpage.com, which argues the site knowingly promotes sex trafficking.
Recent court documents obtained by KOIN 6 News from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children say, “Pimps and predatory offenders are aware that escort ads on Backpage.com provide a marketplace of young girls and boys to purchase for rape…”
In a statement, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said, “Backpage has made minimal, but largely ineffective, adjustments to its practices, and it continues to facilitate the sale of children for sex on its website.”
Rosenblum, Willamette Week and Backpage.com
Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker, who owns the Willamette Week.
The weekly paper’s online classified ads section includes a list of ads that include job postings – like one for KOIN TV. The classified ads are hosted for Willamette Week by Backpage.com, Meeker said.
When she first ran for office in 2012, Rosenblum and Meeker were asked about their connection to Backpage. At that time, Meeker asked Backpage.com to remove escort ads from the Willamette Week’s website — which Backpage did.
But he’s continued to use Backpage.com for Willamette Week’s classified ads.
A click on the links on the right side of the page goes directly to the full Backpage.com site – including ads that cause concern for law enforcement.
Rosenblum declined to talk with KOIN 6 News about her connection to Backpage.com. But she spoke – very briefly, as she said she had a plane to catch – with KOIN 6 News following a speech she gave at the victim’s rights event.
Asked about Backpage.com, she said, “I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about.”
When KOIN 6 News pointed out Backpage.com has ads Rosenblum is trying to eliminate, she said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t click on my husband’s website.”
But she is fully aware of the ads on Backpage.
In October 2014, she signed a letter from the National Association of Attorneys General urging Congress to pass the SAVE Act — Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation — which aims to help in the “eradication of human trafficking.”
The letter specifically talks about how “websites such as Backpage.com has created virtual brothels where children are bought and sold using euphemistic labels such as ‘escorts.'”
Rosenblum, asked why she signed the letter to Congress if she doesn’t know anything about Backpage, said, “Oh, they should crack down on the part of Backpage that runs bad ads in newspapers or magazines that my husband does not do,” she told KOIN 6 News.
She also said she does not believe she’s hypocritical on the issue.
“Not at all, because Backpage is the only company that provides classifieds that are not the type you’re talking about for news weeklies, and that’s what my husband has explained to you several times,” the attorney general said. “You just don’t want to buy that and you don’t want to accept that and I’m really sorry and I have nothing else to say.”
‘What Willamette Week does matters’
Patricia Barrera has spent years working with women in Portland to get them out of prostitution. In fact, she recently applied for a position with the attorney general as the “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Intervention Coordinator.”
She did not get the job.
“We have a woman in a significant position in the state claiming ignorance in what her husband is involved in? That’s a problem for me,” Barrera said.
A file on Willamette Week she’s kept for 15 years includes a letter written to the paper asking them to stop taking advertisements for the sex industry.
“You have a decision to make about your choices, and as a business with incredible power, the Willamette Week is a significant publication in Portland and what they do matters,” she said.
Richard Meeker declined a request from KOIN 6 News for an interview. But in an email, he said, “I do everything in my power not to be involved with my wife’s position. That includes not talking to reporters here about their coverage of her office.”
Meeker did tell KOIN 6 News he’s asking Backpage to remove the ability to get to adult ads with just one click.
The Human Resources department at KOIN TV decided to stop placing ads on Backpage.