Feds Seize Backpage.com In Prostitution Crackdown

Saturday, April 7, 2018
By Paul Martin

by Tyler Durden
Sat, 04/07/2018

In an enforcement action that represents the culmination of a years-long battle by federal and state prosecutors to stop sex workers from operating openly on the Internet (under the guise of “fighting sex trafficking”), a coalition of federal law enforcement agencies on Friday shut down backpage.com, the most popular website for peddling “adult services” in the US.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the site began shutting down Friday morning as FBI agents shuttered affiliated sites around the world. A notice published on Backpage said it had been seized by the FBI, Postal Inspection Service and the IRS, according to the LA Times.

Federal agents raided the Sedona, Ariz., home of Michael Lacey, a Backpage co-founder. Investigators had discovered that, despite selling their interest in the site to a foreign company, the company’s co-founders still maintained control through a network of shell companies.

Last month, Congress passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), a law that holds the operators of websites criminally liable for the actions of their users. The law was vehemently opposed by the ACLU, which said it would hold the operators of these websites to an impossible standard. Before that, the state of California had tried to bring criminal charges against the site, but was stymied by the Communications Decency Act, which prevented state authorities from going after the site.

Despite that, the bill – which was supported by a coalition of anti-sex trafficking groups – was passed into law. In the weeks that followed, Craigslist voluntarily shut down its personals section (the company had previously shuttered an erotic services section back in 2010, under pressure from states’ attorneys general).

The takedown of Backpage (and the probable impending indictment of its owners) is perhaps the last gasp for sex workers hoping to operate “indoors” using the Internet. Instead, many will be forced back into the street, where data collected by researchers universally shows their rates of violence and death are much higher.

In an op-ed published by the LA Times back in February – back when the debate of FOSTA was still raging – Alison Bass, author of a book about sex workers, argued that the crackdown on websites serving as a venue for sex workers was harmful to the workers, while doing little to combat sex trafficking – which is the whole point of the crackdown.

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