A California judge has tentatively rejected supposed pimping charges against the operators of Backpage.com, a major international website that advertises escort services. However the judge gave both sides more time to submit briefs before issuing
a final ruling next month.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman cited a federal law involving freedom of speech while ruling that the state attorney general's office cannot continue prosecuting Backpage.com's CEO Carl Ferrer and former owners Michael Lacey
and James Larkin.
The men were charged by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who ludicrously referred to Backpage.com as an online brothel.
The judge, however, said Harris lacked authority to bring the charges because the federal Communications Decency Act, as a way of promoting free speech, grants immunity to website operators for content posted by users. Bowman wrote:
Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this court, to revisit.
Carl Ferrer, head of small ads website Backpage.com has been arrested on allegations of pimping, the California Attorney General has announced .
In a rather blatant conflating of trafficking with adult consensual sex work, the department said that a three-year investigation concluded that many of its adult escort adverts involved prostitutes and victims of sex trafficking,
including children. Warrants have also been issued for two controlling shareholders.
The site, which operates around the world, is still online.
Advertising website Backpage.com, which includes small ads for sex workers, won an appeal on the 14 th of March, 2016. The ruling states that Backpage is not responsible for any trafficking that may happen because of the advertisements on their
Backpage provides free or cheap advertisements and has been used a lot by sex workers since the removal of Craigslist in 2010. Ads are moved to the front using Bitcoin transactions after credit card companies were pressured to stop working for
the website. In recent years, the website has been subject to multiple lawsuits in different states. The website has also been subject to hearings in the United States Congress, as NSWP reported here .
Three young women who alleged they had been trafficked through ads on Backpage brought the civil case forward. They were all minors at the time the events occurred. As Mike Masnick reports at Techdirt , the case alleged that Backpage was
responsible for this activity under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act (TVPRA) of 2008. The TVPRA states that, anyone who "knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture
which that person knew or should have known has engaged" in an act of sex trafficking.
However, Backpage argued that they were not responsible because they are protected through section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 states that websites are not responsible for the actions of their users.
The three women argued that Backpage was aware of and encouraged sex trafficking on their website. The court did not accept this assessment, upholding their protection under section 230.
The CEO of Craigslist-style classified ad website Backpage.com may be the first person in 20 years to be found in contempt of US Congress.
Carl Ferrer was subpoenaed by a Senate subcommittee back in October to answer questions over allegations that his site was responsible for nearly three-quarters of all reported child sex trafficking ads. He refused to attend.
The subcommittee responded by formally approving a contempt motion that will be reviewed by the full Senate, likely this week. If approved, it will be the first time since 1995 that such a motion has been passed.
The Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) has commended New Hampshire representatives Elizabeth Edwards, Amanda Bouldin, and Carol McGuire, who introduced House Bill 1614 that seeks to decriminalize prostitution
in New Hampshire.
On January 28, there was a hearing on the Bill before the New Hampshire Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Interestingly, representative Dick Marston (Republican) was quoted as saying, This bill can't be supported by women because my wife would hate this bill. This despite the fact that all three of House Bill 1614's sponsors are women, and
that a series of women spoke in support of the Bill at a press conference. Maxine Doogan, President of the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project said:
This is groundbreakingThe criminalization of prostitution is a failed policy. The 'War on Sex' hasn't stopped anyone from buying or selling sex, but it has caused a lot of collateral damage, to poor women, women of color, and trans women. It's
about time that the government stopped intervening in what consenting adults do in private.
US police have shut down TheReviewBoard.net, one of the best known and highly used escort review forums in the Seattle area.
TheReviewBoard.net operated for several years. The site describes itself as
Here local Seattle hobbyists and providers gather to share information, or chat in a relaxed environment.
The website's home page has now been hijacked by police and shows a message indicating it has been:
Seized pursuant to a promoting prostitution investigation conducted by the King County Sheriff's Office, the Bellevue Police Department, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to KIRO-TV, eight men associated with TheReviewBoard.net site were arrested for promoting prostitution, money laundering, and various other charges.
The Sex Workers Outreach Project, known as SWOP, condemned the site's seizure and noted that there is resulting collateral damage.
SWOP believes the closure of TheReviewBoard.net is the latest in a long history of abuses of people in the sex trade that puts these communities in more vulnerable and often more dangerous situations.
Along with raids, attacks on web-based communities like TRB harm both native and non-native sex workers. In addition to a discussion forum, TRB functioned as a free advertising platform for adult workers. Many adult workers in the Northwest
relied on the site as a low-barrier and free way to advertise and work without management, indoors, especially subsequent to MyRedbook's closure new barriers for using Backpage to advertise.
Capri Sunshine, a local sex worker and the SWOP-Seattle media coordinator, said:
The site was valuable to a lot of sex workers. It was free, undocumented workers without ID or credit cards could use it, and it was where most girls got the majority of their work