Prosecutors And Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Aren't Happy With The Government's Treatment Of Backpage

from the thanks-for-making-everything-worse dept

Kamala Harris — former California Attorney General and current US Senator — may have failed in her attempt to take Backpage down, but her dubious legacy lives on. The same day the US Supreme Court denied certification to an appeal of a decision in favor of Backpage and its Section 230 protections, Backpage shut down its adult ads rather than face additional prosecution/persecution from misguided politicians like Harris.

While all those who went after Backpage pat themselves on the back for making NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER in the battle against sex traffickers, those involved in the day-to-day work of tracking down sex traffickers down aren’t nearly as thrilled.

As has been noted here on multiple occasions, shutting down a service used by some for illegal activity just buries the illegal activity even deeper underground. Backpage’s adult ad closure means traffickers will be moving to other venues — ones not being actively watched by law enforcement, no doubt including sites they’re not even aware of. As for sex workers who used Backpage to advertise adult services, they’ve simply moved their ads to other sections of the site. So, all the grandstanding has done nothing to harm sex traffickers. It has done a bit of damage to sex workers. But it’s caused the most harm to law enforcement.

David Meyer Lindenberg of Fault Lines points out that those actually involved with the fight against sex trafficking are angered by the vindictive prosecution of Backpage. It may have helped net Kamala Harris a new job where she can screw things up at the federal level, but it’s done nothing to combat trafficking.

He highlights a handful of quotes from a Miami Herald article on the Backpage adult ad shutdown.

“It would be a mistake for investigators or prosecutors to assume that trafficking will decrease because of the shutdown of Backpage’s escort ads,” said Jane Anderson, a former Miami-Dade assistant state attorney who now works for AEquitas, an anti-human trafficking resource organization for prosecutors.

“In fact, investigators and prosecutors must now be even more proactive and resourceful to uncover trafficking that is occurring on lesser known websites, including other areas of Backpage.”


“It’s a symbolic crusade,” said Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, an author and criminology professor at George Mason University who serves an expert witness in human-trafficking cases. “They’re trying to get some accolades and look like the heroes. It’s having a negative effect on the ability for law enforcement to rescue victims and prosecute offenders. The best we can do is facilitate the capabilities of police to investigate.”

That’s the damage done whether or not you believe Backpage was used by sex traffickers. Realistic stats on sex trafficking are almost nonexistent and almost any law enforcement sweep designed to haul in traffickers just nets a bunch of consenting adults. What’s never found is anything approaching the horror stories used to turn hysteria into perpetual funding — the theory that thousands of teens are being forced to perform sexual acts by traffickers and (most ridiculously) shuttled around the country to serve attendees of major events ranging from the Super Bowl to local stock shows.

As Lindenberg notes, the only people celebrating this amazingly-hollow victory are those who abused their power to target a site over third-party content.

It’s notable how few people have come forward to defend what happened. The most vocal messages of support came from the participants themselves, who made a point of congratulating each other for their role in bringing it about. And when Florida prosecutors and the staff of Reason magazine agree that an act of government was ill-advised, you can be pretty sure it wasn’t the greatest idea ever.

That’s how government power works. It’s rarely effective, and it almost always results in unintended losses.

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Companies: backpage

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Comments on “Prosecutors And Anti-Sex Trafficking Advocates Aren't Happy With The Government's Treatment Of Backpage”

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I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re:

That the best you could come up with? It’s rhetorical moron, no need to answer.

Or… cupcake… demand smarter laws that actually do some good. Maybe do a cost benefit analysts to see if the proposed law would actually do something.

I like your “idea” better… just throw our hands up and abolish government. Yup. That’s the ticket kid. Keep em comin’.

Berenerd (profile) says:

It was a talking point, nothing more. They wanted to get their name in the paper by choosing something easy to make it look like they are doing something. In reality they just make it harder to track something that is hard to track to begin with. You will not get a John to say “Look officer, I bought a prostitute and I found it was really a 13yo girl from Mexico who is being held against her will to please guys. Honest, I was just buying a hooker and they gave me her.”

Where I am not trying to say they should do nothing, but if there is something illegal, someone is gonna break that law. Rather than block their ways of breaking the laws, monitor them. Run stings. You could ban them all from the internet, they would just do it like they did it before, by word of mouth. You can’t believe this didn’t happen before the internet.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The problem is we no longer have the attention span to follow through.

The water in Flint is still mostly poison, but if you ask 100 people many will tell you it was fixed.

Some areas of New Orleans are still screwed up, but if you ask 100 people many will tell you how the victims wasted the money & its all fixed now anyways.

People click the like button, and assume its fixed.
People click to sign the petition, and assume it will get fixed.
People hear an elected offical outright threatening perfectly legal businesses, to be more popular while undermining the law.

People hear a press release and think well thats solved now.
There is human trafficking, but many of the numbers are over stated. No one calls them on the facts, because they are ‘experts’. Anyone working in a way they disapprove of, is assisting.

Backpage & Craigslist had deals with law enforcement. They assisted because it was the right thing to do. In repayment, they were pilloried in the press who repeated nonsensical claims (IIRC there was a report that suggested at the Super Bowl they brought in a number of hookers equal to an entire states population) because they get more views for bad news. Not many stories were run about the departments who were running successful stings & rescue operations, because that didn’t keep everyone upset.

I really do not grasp why they keep sex work illegal.
If both participants are willingly involved, why care?
If sex work was legalized, it would thin the haystack to find the bad actors forcing people into sex work.
If it was legal, prices would drop causing less demand to force people to do the work to enrich a pimp.

Pandering to the ‘moral majority’ gets good sound bites, and dubious results. If you don’t like sex workers, don’t use them or be one. Stop worrying that someone else might use one, because it doesn’t actually effect you beyond offending your sensibilities.

Pushing them out of sight & pretending its solved does nothing but reinforce the attitudes that we HAVE to demand corporations have to do more, rather than demand our leadership get their shit together and find real solutions.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

^This. I don’t approve of sex work but as a conservative woman I am pragmatic. With that in mind I (reluctantly) accept that legalising, taxing, and regulating the sex trade is the way to go. Prohibition only makes it more risky for everyone. I honestly don’t understand why mine is apparently a minority view. Doesn’t this work perfectly well in Nevada and parts of Texas?

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ok, the water in Flint isn’t still mostly poison. It tests below the federal limits for lead and copper in most places now but the EPA is leaving the Do Not Drink advisory in place until all tests come back below the limit (I grew up in Flint, my mother still lives in Flint, and I’m in the city about 3-4 days out of the week so I need to know if I can drink the water so I keep up on this stuff).

Other than that, I do agree with you completely.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Is that by the old limits or the updated limits that raised the allowable amount?

The next question I would ask is that filtered water or unfiltered they test.

It is very hard to get real information about what is happening there, because everyones angst is moved onto the next horrible headline.

There is quite a bit in the history of what lead to the crisis that most people don’t know about, but they think its fixed now.

I do hope they keep working to get it all fixed for you and your mom, no one should have to suffer because of greed & stupidity.

Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

I’m also convinced that the sex trafficking drama is a little bit overstated. I couldn’t believe recently when I got on my crowded local subway, all the way to work I’m staring at this enormous poster warning me about how I should recognize the signs, and do whatever I could, to stop underage sex trafficking. What a joy and a buzz killer. I don’t fucking care. It’s not my fucking problem.

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