In April, the federal government shut down the classified ad website Backpage.com, holding the site responsible for users' posts hawking illicit transactions — particularly, escort services.
The number of online sex ads dropped significantly following the site's shuttering, but experts say posts offering prostitution are already back in full force through other forums.
What are the details?
According to software firm Marinus Analytics, Backpage had around 133,000 sex ads posted on its site the month before the operation was closed. The researchers then took a look at existing U.S. escort websites and tracked them from mid-September to mid-October, finding that there were roughly 146,000 sex ads online during that time period, ABC News reported.
Marinus Analystics president and co-founder, Emily Kennedy, told ABC News that several escort sites have ramped up their operations, seeing the absence of Backpage as an opportunity to expand their market share.
"They're really competing with each other for that spot now and so we're seeing frequent activity at this point," Kennedy said, adding that as long as it's a lucrative endeavor, "people are going to figure out a way to advertise it."
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed into law the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, which was a House bill that was combined with the Senate's Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The law is now known as SESTA/FOSTA.
SESTA/FOSTA holds website owners and managers liable for operating "an interactive computer service...with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person."
Websites like Craigslist and Reddit have removed their personal ad pages without much of a fight against the government's crackdown. But adult sex workers and their advocates are pushing back against the legislation — even organizing to protest it — insisting that digital platforms give them added protection while vetting clients.
Several law enforcement investigators argue that dismantling known escort sites hinders their efforts to find sex trafficking victims, as prostitution rings retreat back underground and use alternative avenues for offering services.
Rob Spectre, CEO and founder of a company that utilizes artificial intelligence to fight against online sex trafficking told ABC News that in the past, investigators could use a photo of a suspected victim and search for them in ads on sites like Backpage. Now that they're gone, Spectre said, using that method is going to be "very difficult."