A phalanx of state attorneys general led by Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal, armed with nothing but sternly worded letters, indignant press releases, and a seemingly inexhaustible store of self-righteousness, is on the verge of shutting down the world's oldest profession once and for all. Or so they seem to think.
In September the online classified-ad giant Craigslist, after years of pressure from Blumenthal and other public officials offended by its "adult services" ads, eliminated that section of its website, replacing the hyperlink to it with a little black rectangle labeled "censored." The move came shortly after Blumenthal, in the midst of his U.S. Senate campaign, accused the company of profiting from slavery and child rape, both of which he routinely conflates with consensual sex between adults. The charge was especially audacious because Craigslist started charging for adult services ads at the urging of law enforcement officials who thought it would help slim the section and track down lawbreakers.
After Craigslist capitulated, the suggestive ads for masseuses, dancers, and escorts migrated to its competitors—most conspicuously Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media. Blumenthal, joined by 20 other attorneys general, responded with a letter demanding that Backpage.com follow Craigslist's example. "Backpage has a moral—if not legal—obligation to purge ads that promote trafficking and sexual abuse of women and children," he wrote.
Blumenthal, whose anti-prostitution crusade went beyond his official duties as Connecticut's attorney general, thus conceded that he had no legal basis for demanding that online classified ad services censor their users. "Backpage.com is disappointed that the AGs have determined to shift blame from criminal predators to a legal business operator in an apparent attempt to capitalize on political opportunity during the election season," the company replied. Blumenthal pronounced himself "disappointed" as well, saying, "I will consult with my fellow attorneys general and consider possible next steps."