CHICAGO (CN) – The notorious ad website Backpage.com, accused multiple times of assisting in online sex-trafficking, is to blame for the rape and murder of a Chicago teen last year, her mother claims in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Desiree Robinson, then 16, disappeared from her family’s home in November, and advertisements with her picture began popping up in Backpage’s “escort” section shortly after, her mother Yvonne Ambrose says in her Cook County complaint filed against the company and its affiliates.
Robinson was allegedly killed by Antonio Rosales, 32, on Christmas Eve at the Markham, Ill., home of his parents after he purchased her from two unknown individuals for a second time.
Rosales, also a named defendant in the complaint, is accused of strangling Robinson after she refused him in the garage and slashing her throat with a knife.
He was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse, and pleaded not guilty in February, according to a Chicago Tribune report. His criminal case is pending in Cook County.
“After physically assaulting and murdering Desiree Robinson, defendant Anthony Rosales stripped her body naked and left her dead on the garage floor,” Ambrose’s lawsuit states.
Ambrose says Backpage holds at least some responsibility for what happened to her daughter.
“As a result of being advertised for sex on www.backpage.com…Desiree Robinson was sexually abused and exploited by men, including Anthony Rosales, who purchased her for sex by paying money to the two unknown individuals and or other pimps,” her lawsuit states.
The complaint adds that Rosales “used” Backpage in his attempt to forcibly rape Robinson before killing her.
Backpage and its affiliate companies “have generated tens of millions of dollars in profit from the illegal sex ads posted on www.backpage.com,” according to the complaint, which adds the website made $135 million in revenue in 2014 alone.
Although the company says its services are just like those of Craigslist, it knows where the real money comes from, according to this and other lawsuits.
“Backpage.com is the market leader in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to thousands of reported cases of sex trafficking, including trafficking of children,” Ambrose says.
The company knowingly accepts advertisements for illegal sex work and even assists its customers in “sanitizing” their ads to avoid detection from law enforcement, the complaint claims, adding that “Backpage.com coached its customers on how to post ‘clean’ ads for illegal transactions.”
According to National Center for Missing & Exploited Children statistics cited in the lawsuit, 73 percent of child trafficking reports the group receives involve Backpage.
The U.S. Senate issued a report in January detailing Backpage’s practices of accepting and editing ads for adult services to filter out words that might trigger legal issues. The website’s escort section was shut down after the report was released.
Backpage is the subject of numerous other lawsuits due to its adult ads, including two filed in February by nonprofit women’s shelters in Arizona and Florida, both claiming the company encouraged sex trafficking of both women and children.
Ambrose is suing the website for wrongful death and civil conspiracy, among other counts, and Rosales for wrongful death and battery. She is represented by Bhavani Raveendran of Romanucci & Blandin LLC in Chicago.
Backpage did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment sent through its website.