Earlier this month, the Attorney General of California took the unusual step of charging the CEO of classifieds site Backpage and two of the company’s major shareholders with pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. At the time, AG Kamala Harris said that Backpage was “unlawfully designed…to be the world’s top online brothel.” Now the company’s lawyers are seeking dismissal of those charges.
Backpage ostensibly is a free classifieds site for everything from apartments to bass players, but according to the California AG’s investigation, it makes pretty much all of its money from charging sex workers to advertise in its “adult” section.
These include underage providers, according to the allegations. As part of the investigation, the state “hired” escorts through Backpage ads, then interviewed them and didn’t arrest them.
One 16-year-old provider explained that being too young to have a credit card was no impediment to listing herself on the site: she used a prepaid debit card, and the site otherwise had no way to know that she was underage.
Harris is a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California this year, and the lawyers representing Backpage’s investors and CEO claim that the crusade against Backpage is a crusade meant to make her look good to voters.
“Harris will be warmly ensconced in the United States Senate by the time her blatant violations of the First Amendment and federal law are finally adjudicated,” the two investors said in a separate statement. The court date in this case isn’t until after Election Day.
Instead, all three say that the state has no authority to bring such a complaint, and their business is protected by the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment.
Backpage.com lawyers seek dismissal of charges against CEO, partners [Sacramento Bee]
Backpage.com operators seek to drop pimping charges [Mercury News]
by Laura Northrup via Consumerist