After a three-year investigation by authorities in California, assisted by authorities in Texas, the US Immigration and Customs Service, and the US Senate, Carl Ferrer, the CEO of Backpage, was arrested this month on charges of pimping, operating a brothel, and sex trafficking minors.
Problem is, Mr. Ferrer is not a pimp, brothel owner, or sex trafficker. He only operates an online classified ad service.
True, Backpage caters to adult ads, many of which are thinly-veiled offers of prostitution, illegal in many jurisdictions and unsavory in most. True too, every once in awhile an ad is placed on Backpage by a pimp, an underage provider, and even a sex trafficker.
However, if Mr. Ferrer can be charged with the sex crimes committed by his customers, virtually every newspaper with a classified ad section can be charged too. So also could most truck stops, many bars, the Republican and Democratic conventions, sporting events, business trade shows, etc., since they too facilitate prostitution, pimping, and sex trafficking.
If the authorities were genuinely concerned about the victims of pimps and sex traffickers, they would welcome the existence of Backpage, since on it are excellent leads to help them catch the predators and rescue the victims. Although very little pimping or sex trafficking can be found on Backpage--the vast majority of ads are placed voluntarily by independent adults--scouring the ads looking for the suspicious ones would help authorities combat the crimes they say that they want to combat.
Anyone who cares about the wellbeing of prostitutes and sexual minorities should also celebrate, not condemn, Backpage.
Prostitutes benefit enormously from being able to advertise online. This frees them from having to work as streetwalkers or in brothels, as well as from dependence on pimps. This also allows them to screen clients before meeting them, and thereby reduce their risks of violent victimization.
But conventional prostitutes aren't the only ones who benefit from the ability to advertise online. The transgender community, for example, is another beneficiary. The risks of harassment and violence to members of this community when venturing out in public is huge. It is much safer for them to have an online meeting place.
Ordinary people with minority but acceptable sexual tastes also benefit from Backpage. Got a foot fetish? How about a few shades of gray? You can place and answer ads on Backpage to meet a partner, and not always one who charges a fee.
Importantly, Backpage doesn't actively promote any given sexual lifestyle. This frankly puts it in a different class from even Larry Flynt, Playboy, and the Advocate, which do promote their preferred sexual lifestyles. All Backpage does is make it easier and safer for people to pursue the sexual lifestyles they already want.
Granted, Mr. Ferrer is not a fellow most of us would want to invite over for dinner, unless our dinner guests also include pawn shop owners, the proprietors of payday loan operations, and others whose legitimate business activities have an unsavory scent. However, Mr. Ferrer is not only innocent of the crimes he's accused of, he is also providing a helpful public service.
When law enforcement resources of this magnitude are devoted to apprehending and prosecuting Mr. Ferrer, we unfortunately realize how beholden we all are to plain prudery, how quick we are to trample on the civil rights of sexual minorities, and how claims of concern for the victims of sexual violence and oppression are really just whitewash over a witch hunt.