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Wendy Reuer, Published September 24 2010

Officials seek removal of adult-services ads

On the same day Fargo police used a local website to arrest two women for prostitution, the site came under fire by 21 state attorneys general.

Fargo police set up a meeting on Tuesday with three women by replying to advertisements found under the Fargo section of Backpage.com, an online classified ad site similar to the popular Craigslist.

By evening, Nour Gahndy Rassas, 18, of Warwick, R.I., and Kathrine Elizabeth Hurst-Flisk, 20, of Fargo, were arrested at two Fargo motels on charges of prostitution.

Both allegedly agreed to have sex with an undercover officer for money.

Fargo police Lt. Pat Claus said he monitors the adult classifieds as well as The Forum’s adult entertainment advertising daily.

“We monitor those and periodically conduct a random enforced action,” he said.

Attorneys general and Claus say the main problem is not prostitution, but residual crimes such as assaults, robbery and extortion that seem to follow.

Ben Wogsland, with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson’s office, said Swanson recently sent a letter to Craigslist and Backpage asking them to remove their adult sections.

“We do that frequently in our office,” Wogsland said. “There are concerns across the nation that the adult- services section is being used as a marketplace for prostitution. Backpage.com has acknowledged some of those problems in the past but to date they have implemented inadequate controls.”

Representatives from North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office did not return messages left for staff Thursday.

Earlier this month, Craigslist pulled its adult section, conceding to requests by attorneys general and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which claimed the sites encourage prostitution and child trafficking.

Backpage has not responded to media requests, but a blog written on the homepage states:

“Backpage.com is disappointed that the AGs have determined to shift blame from criminal predators to a legal business operator in an apparent attempt to capitalize on political opportunity during the election season.”

The blog states Backpage “respectfully declines” to remove the adult section.

In the case of The Forum, General Manager James Boberg said he has never received a request from police or the public to remove the adult entertainment classified section.

“These ads are strategically placed,” Boberg said. “We do our absolute best to keep these (ads) as tasteful as possible.”

Claus said most local ads make no reference to dancing. Exotic dancing is a legal adult service. Instead, Claus said the ads are just a name and phone number.

And although the number of adult ads remains fairly steady, Claus said more of the phone numbers in the ads use an out-of-region area code.

Boberg said nearly all of the ads are paid for in person at The Forum’s front desk. The ads are supposed to be for legal, exotic dancing services. If other services are offered or requested from those placing the ads, The Forum has no control over it, Boberg said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530