Sex Worker Rights Groups Condemn Backpage Verdict

Sex Worker Rights Groups Condemn Backpage Verdict

SAN FRANCISCO — Two prominent sex worker rights advocacy groups, the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) and the Rhode Island chapter of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE RI), have issued a statement lambasting the verdict in the federal Backpage.com trial and calling for full decriminalization of sex work.

“After six years and two trials, Michael Lacey, a founder of Backpage.com, was convicted on a single count of money laundering and acquitted on another,” the statement read. “An Arizona jury deadlocked on 84 other counts against him in a case that alleged he participated in a scheme to sell sex ads.”

ESPLERP’s Maxine Doogan called the prosecution of Backpage “a textbook example of a false narrative.”

Doogan questioned the government’s claims that Backpage’s adult sections encouraged human and/or sex trafficking.

“It’s all a sham,” Doogan added. “The owners of Backpage are not charged with trafficking. They are charged with profiting from prostitution. There isn’t a federal law against prostitution, but they have invented a way to go after the money, using obscure provisions of the Travel Act to apply state-level criminal violations — from Arizona — that cross state lines.”

The groups’ statement alleges that the Department of Justice was “under immense political pressure and determined to get Backpage.”

The sex worker advocates also criticized the judge’s ruling barring the defense from telling the jury about Section 230 protections, a decision based on the fact that Section 230 applies only to state, not federal crimes.

“This is part of a widespread anti-sex-work crackdown,” said Bella Robinson of COYOTE RI. “In this case, there is prosecutorial misconduct, two trials, multiple defendants, and sadly persecuting one of those defendants into despair and suicide.”

ESPLERP’s Claire Alwyne opined that the case against Backpage.com “rests entirely on the criminalization of sex work.”

“If sex work were decriminalized, as it is in multiple countries — like New Zealand — there would be no case: just adults engaging in consensual commercial sex,” Alwyne said. “That would allow sex workers who face harassment, assault, theft, trafficking or other crimes to get the same justice as any other worker. It would also stop law enforcement arresting consensual sex workers and our clients.”

The groups ended their statement with the battle cry, “Sex workers demand decriminalization!”

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