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Mark Kirk

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., speaks during an interview in his office Monday, June 9, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

WASHINGTON • Six members of Congress, including Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, have asked the Department of Justice to investigate and "dismantle" a what they call "the nation's most active sex trafficking website,"

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the members of Congress said that "sex traffickers act anonymously through websites purposely designed to hide the traffickers' activities and enable traffickers to annually exploit at least 100,000 American children." About 80 percent are "women and children who are bought, sold and imprisoned in the traffickers' underground sex service industry."

A lawyer for the company, Liz McDougall, said Thursday Backpage had no comment on the letter.

"However, I invite any members of Congress or the Senate sincerely dedicated to the addressing the social scourge of domestic minor sex trafficking to meet with me to discuss their concerns," she said in an e-mail.

Company lawyers have argued in past court cases that its policies prohibit the activity described in the members of Congress's letter, and that it allows advertisement of only legal escort services. McDougall told the Post-Dispatch last year that sex trafficking was "Internet-wide, not restricted to or caused by Backpage.”

In 2012, in a guest editorial in the Seattle Times, McDougall wrote that “to stop human trafficking online, you have to fight it online. To fight it online, you have to be online. And you need allies online.”

Wagner sponsored legislation aimed at cracking down on online advertisement of sex with minors or sex with adult victims held against their will. It was part of a dozen bills that passed the House this week aimed at human trafficking and the sex trade.

Kirk is preparing to introduce in the Senate a measure similar to Wagner's.

The letter to Holder was also signed by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; and Richard Shelby, R-Ala.' and Reps. Diane Black, R-Tenn.; and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

The letter asks Holder to investigate both the former owners of the Web site and its recent sale to an "undisclosed Dutch company." It cited the FBI's investigation of MyRedBook as precedent. 

In December, the owner of that site plead guilty to the intent to facilitate prostitution in interstate commerce.

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Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.