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.