Last month, a California judge tentatively ruled that he would dismiss charges lodged by California's attorney general against
Backpage.com's chief executive and two of its former owners. After an interim scare, the judge has now issued a final judgement confirming the previous ruling and the charges have been dismissed.
The CEO, Carl Ferrer was charged with pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping in connection to online advertisements posted on the online ads portal. California's attorney general Kamala Harris claimed that advertisements
amounted to solicitation of prostitution.
However Judge Michael Bowman agreed with the defendants, including former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin, that they were protected, among other things, by the Communications Decency Act, and hence they were not liable for third-party ads posted by
others. The ruling said:
By enacting the CDA, Congress struck a balance in favor of free speech by providing for both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial for those who are deemed an internet service provider.
California attorney general Kamala Harris is pursuing new charges against Backpage.com website
The fresh charges, which attorney general Kamala Harris claims are based on new evidence, come after an earlier case against the website was thrown out of court.
The website advertises escort services and seems t have wound up Harris who claimed that the site operated a hotbed of illicit and exploitative activity .
Harris said she had charged Backpage executives Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey and James Larkin with 13 counts of pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. They also are charged with 26 counts of money laundering. In the latest case, filed in Sacramento
County superior court, Harris claims Backpage illegally funnelled money through multiple companies and created various websites to get around banks that refused to process transactions. (This does not seem a particularly surprising, or necessarily bad
thing to do).
She also alleged that the company used photos of women from Backpage on other sites without their permission in order to increase revenue and knowingly profited from the proceeds of prostitution. And from what Harris said in a statement it seems that
hers is a morality campaign against sex work. Harris said:
By creating an online brothel -- a hotbed of illicit and exploitative activity -- Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacey, and James Larkin preyed on vulnerable victims, including children, and profited from their exploitation.
Warning: Fake News Alert: When did politicians ever care about a robust evidence base when issues of morality are at stake?
In July the Home Affairs Committee said soliciting for sex in England and Wales should no longer be a criminal offence. MPs also suggested sex workers should be able to share premises rather than risk working alone.
However such policies are way to liberal for the government and so they have commissioned another research report, no doubt hoping that it will reach a more proscriptive solution. After all there are still lots of men to jail for the heinous crime of
simply trying to enjoy the pleasures of life.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that a robust evidence base was needed before policy changes were addressed. And so another Home Office research project has been commissioned and will report back next June. Rudd commented that any government
response should include:
Ensuring those involved in prostitution and sex work are safeguarded, that traffickers and those who exploit vulnerable people can be effectively targeted, and ensuring that community concerns about prostitution and sex work can be addressed.
A sex worker's group, SCOT-PEP, has accused Police Scotland of using 'support, health and wellbeing' (SHAW) visits as a
cover for raids in an attempt to criminalise those involved in the sex industry. Police have been turning up at the homes of known sex workers unannounced to deliver 'support' or 'advice' to people who sell sex.
SCOT-PEP co-chair Nadine Stott said:
In a legal context where the police prosecute sex workers, it's completely inappropriate to use police surveillance and unannounced police visits to deliver 'support' or 'advice' to people who sell sex.
We have now seen that part of Police Scotland's own remit with regards to Operation SHAW is to 'identify other criminality'. For sex workers in our network, this raises the frightening possibility that Police Scotland are conducting surveillance and
surprise home visits on sex workers under the veneer of offering 'help and support', while in fact looking for opportunities to criminalise sex workers for drug use, immigration offences or anything else they can find.
In an attempt to assist sex workers, SCOT-PEP has published know your rights cards for sex workers in Romanian, Thai, Portuguese, Polish and Mandarin
Police have informed another sex worker group called Encompass who are working with the SHAW scheme that no women have been prosecuted as a result of any SHAW visit. Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Houston, head of Police Scotland's Human Trafficking
Police Scotland is committed to improving the safety and wellbeing of people, localities and communities. It is recognised that many males and females involved in prostitution are there as a result of force or a perception of limited alternatives. It is
also acknowledged that other persons may have freely chosen to be involved in prostitution.
SHAW (Support, Health and Wellbeing) visits were introduced by Police Scotland and our partners to improve our multi-agency response to 'off-street' prostitution. Visits are victim-centred as opposed to enforcement being a priority. The methodology has
been developed through collaboration between Police Scotland and key partner agencies.