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Here's How Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer Supposedly Profited From Child Sex Trafficking

Behold, 12 things the state of California considers sex trafficking that are totally not

The head of Backpage.com, the world's second-largest online classifieds site, was arrested in Texas yesterday under a California warrant for pimping, conspiracy, pimping of a minor, and attempted pimping of a minor. Here's the paperwork filed by California Department of Justice Special Agent Brian Fichtner in support of Ferrer's arrest. The government asserts that Ferrer and Backpage intentionally profited off of child sex-trafficking.

Their "evidence"? It's... insane. I don't know how else to describe it other than that. Throughout the complaint, Fichtner uses instances of Backpage cooperating with law-enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in identifying and finding potential victims as evidence that Backpage profits off of exploitation. Backpage is literally rejecting—and turning over to the government—ads that may promote sex trafficking, and the government says, see! proof that sex traffickers love Backpage! Shut it down! It's like a building owner reporting predatory activity out front and the cops arresting him and tearing up the street corner instead of tracking down the predator.

It also gives lie to the idea that this crusade against Backpage is about stopping the sexual exploitation of children and not eradicating online ads for sexual-services entirely. First, officials went after the "adult services" section on Craigslist. Then they took down sex-ad forum MyRedbook.com, the gay prostitution site Rentboy.com, and escort review forum The Review Board. Next up: Backpage. It's simply the latest target in the U.S. government's quixotic and cruel aim to make sex-work as hidden (and dangerous) as possible.

Below, check out the lame logic California offers to justify portraying Ferrer as a sex trafficker and charge him with pimping children:

1. Adults advertising legal sexual services on Backpage (such as sensual body rubs) may actually be peddling sex.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

As Craigslist shows, if you give people a place to post classified ads, many will be for prostitution. The government likes to crow about how it got Craigslist to take down its "Adult Services" section, but take one look at sections for dating and "casual encounters" and you'll see the sex trade is still totally alive and well on Craigslist. The presence or absence of a heading marked "adult" or "escort" ultimately makes little difference—heck, there are plenty of people offering sex on Twitter every day. It's absurd to expect websites to intuit the real motives of every user who posts, or try to somehow screen out people offering legal pay-to-play erotic activity from those who will tack on a hand-job at the end of a massage or have sex with a client after flogging him.

2. Adults explicitly advertising sexual services for a fee on Backpage are indeed offering sexual services for a fee.

||| arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court||| arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

For the record, Backpage runs hundreds of thousands of user-generated ads every day. It does not, cannot possibly, and does not claim to look at all of them before they go up, which is why it relies on automated screening processes that flag potentially suspicious ads, with these flagged ads then reviewed by actual humans. Trying to prevent people from offering illegal services (like prostitution) through such screening processes is all Backpage can realistically do, short of not existing. And it should be enough to protect it from criminal liability under federal law. Like other user-generated content and social media sites—from Craigslist to Reddit to Facebook—Backpage is theoretically shielded from liability for things users post by Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act.

3. Sex sells better than old sofas.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

Somehow this is Ferrer's fault.

4. Backpage removed an ad suspected of offering prostitution when it was reported and then blocked it from being re-posted.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

It is unclear how quickly removing ads for illegal activity when notified and preventing ads for illegal activity from being re-published somehow constitutes the promotion of illegal activity.

5. Backpage uses automated filtering to try and prevent people from posting about illegal activity.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

Ban all homonyms!

6. Sometimes minors are advertised on Backpage, and this helps the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and local law enforcement to find them.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

It's important to note that "suspected" here means NCMEC actually has no idea. The agency screens ads all around the country and reports those with potentially underage individuals in them to state law enforcement agencies. But there's not much difference, looks wise, between a 17-year-old "child" and a 19-year-old adult, so it's largely guess work. NCMEC has also monitored and flagged ads with words or phrases allegedly signaling someone underage, but these phrases (like "barely legal") are also used frequently for marketing purposes by sex-workers over 18.

Out of all of the suspected instances reported—and if there were 2,900 in California alone, it's got to be a big number—only 400 actual investigations were launched over a four-year period, suggesting much of the ad-sharing NCMEC does is out of an abundance of caution.

Regardless: how is it a bad thing that NCMEC can monitor Backpage for potential exploitation? That's certainly something it couldn't do if prostitution ads were further dispersed all over the Internet or these teens were selling sex from bars and street corners. In the minority of cases where NCMEC turns out to be correct about minors engaging in prostitution, it's Backpage that provides a paper trail allowing law enforcement to track them down, along with any potential predators.

7. Backpage helps law-enforcement with juvenile sex-trafficking investigations.

"Backpage acknowledges that pimps routinely pay Backpage for ads trafficking children for sex," Fichtner states. And how does he back up this outrageous claim? By stating that Backpage has cooperated with law-enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in sex trafficking investigations—which does not really sound like an "acknowledgment" of wrongdoing from Backpage at all. Still, Fichtner offers no further evidence to support either the claim that "pimps routinely pay Backpage for ads trafficking children for sex" or that Backpage acknowledges any such thing.

8. An adult woman detained for prostitution in a DOJ sting on Backpage admitted to advertising on Backpage.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

9. Sex-trafficking victims sometimes flee pimps and start working for themselves by posting ads on Backpage.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

9. Teen girls sometimes pretend to be adults in order post their own sex ads on Backpage.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

10. An older man in a relationship with a 15-year-old advertised her for prostitution on Backpage, which allowed law enforcement to find her and arrest the man.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

Hmmm, under our new logic of online liability, shouldn't the website where the 32-year-old first picked up the 15-year-old be found guilty of statutory rape?

11. Backpage derived 99 percent of revenue from adult ads during a time when the only ads it charged for were adult ads.

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

12. Adult women can make a lot of money independently selling sex on Backpage

arrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Courtarrest warrant/Sacramento County Superior Court

Read the whole thing here.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    Reporting person further clarifies suspicious individual was not a clown, just a gotdanged teenager who should get off his lawn.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Wait a minute... Don't teenagers often wear baggy clothing, favor hair dyes in very unnatural-looking (even neon) colors, and don't some teenagers have big noses??? Hmm...

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    He was huffing paint, which is what gave him the Heath Ledger smile.

  • Quixote||

    Come now, clearly we must put an end to these "classified" announcements that lure our nation's youth into a hotbed of lust, rape, and incest, just as we have put an end to inappropriately deadpan, electronically conveyed "parodies." And this arrest in California is precisely the dissuasive action we needed to get the job done. Saying Backpage doesn't act as a tool for child pornographers is like saying deceitful, freewheeling mimicry designed to damage reputations isn't criminal impersonation. Surely Ms. Brown wouldn't wish to defend the "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated judge in America's leading criminal "satire" case? See the documentation at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    Oh wow, that's the best

  • Playa Manhattan.||

    The rule of law doesn't matter?

    This is going to be fun.

  • Hamster of Doom||

    S/H/It sounds familiar.

  • Citizen X||

    Oh hey, you're the autistic fellow who was trying to white knight Johnny Longtorso that one time. Did you ever get him to sleep with you?

  • tarran||

    Wow!

    I think I understand why the little guy is such a cute little bundle of rage.

  • Citizen X||

    So, that's a no?

  • ||

    You're really so bereft of material?

    Hello helpful random user handle. Could you point us to your intellectual and creative oeuvre? I would hate to think that you were a basement dwelling, middle-aged, troll complaining about someone while you waited for your mother to bring you rich chocolately ovaltine.

  • ||

    Awww, did I hit a nerve bitch?

    Naw, I just think playing secret-handle assassin in a reputation economy is lame. If it's too pathetic to say under your normal handle it might be too pathetic to say at all.

  • ||

    *fap fap fap fap*

  • Citizen X||

    OH SHIT HE TOL' YOU JESSE

  • Lee Genes||

    We get the classiest trolls, the best trolls. Everyone's going to be amazed at our trolls.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    yuuuuuge trolls.

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    Hey bud, I found out someone was spearheading an HD remake of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, which would be terrific but it seems to have died on the vine. Shame. Anyway, figured you'd be interested in hearing about it.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I wish they brought back remakes of X-wing and Tie-fighter.

    I offered to have my tech guys redo/update it under contract and LucasArts refused in a nicely worded FU letter. "No unsolicited works and we don't want to redo something that makes money".

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    NOLF is in a similar state. For some reason nobody can track down the copyright ownership to rerelease it with an updated wrapper to work on new Windows boxes. Which is disappointing, it's a spiritual predecessor to Archer.

  • pan fried wylie||

    New Empire At War, dammit. I got an itch and the only cure is some Star Wars themed RTS!

  • Citizen X||

    "Pay attention to meee!" the troll explained.

  • Citizen X||

    Haha. Seriously? How old are you, ten?

  • Citizen X||

    "HOW CAN I CLAIM VICTORY IF YOU KEEP REPLYING TO MY SHITPOSTS?" - Reality

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    This creep showed up a few weeks back to 'sperg out on a random post. He's some frustrated libtard kiddo who doesn't get enough attention back at DU and comes here to shitpost.

  • Playa Manhattan.||

    No, it's a regular. I have it narrowed down to 2 people.

  • Zeb||

    By the way, when I'm making the tards shuffle for my amusment

    Now that's how you do delusional.

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    He's thirteen, moron.

    How embarrassing for you.

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    Not really, no.

  • You Sound Like a Prog (MJG)||

    Sounds good. Thank you for thinking of me.

  • Citizen X||

    It is nice to know that there is absolutely no crime in Arlington, so the police have time to investigate this.

  • Citizen X||

    I'll ask my Arlington friends the next time i see them. One of 'em had a coyote living in his backyard, so rats wouldn't bother him too much.

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    There's a sheep graveyard a short walk from the family cottage up in the north. The coyotes raid a butchery a few miles away and bring heads back to our land to gnaw on.

  • Citizen X||

    Do they take mass transit back and forth?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    THIS JUST IN: Skateboarder has baggy pants and neck tattoo, not clown makeup. FBI being called in.

  • Citizen X||

    Yo, that's fuckin' Queeblo, man.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    AAAAHHHHHHH!!!! Its a clown! Run for your life!

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    It's like a building owner reporting predatory activity out front and the cops arresting him and tearing up the street corner instead of tracking down the predator.

    That's not at all outlandish considering the asset forfeiture proceedings brought against motels frequented by drug abusers.

  • Citizen X||

    Attempted Pimping would be an excellent album title.

  • WTF||

    A pimp's love is very different from that of a square.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Agreed. Sounds like a Soul Coughing title.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Crap. Given the content of the post, I should have picked $300

  • Citizen X||

    +5% nation of Milton-Bradley

  • Citizen X||

    Either that or a Kurt Vile tribute.

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    Ban all homonyms!

    Homophobe!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's simply the latest target in the U.S. government's quixotic and cruel aim to make sex-work as hidden (and dangerous) as possible.

    So is this another process-as-punishment situation or are we floating a type of trial balloon to see if any of it can past judicial muster?

  • Caput Lupinum||

    Yes.

  • Brochettaward||

    The escort section of my local Backpage.com is alive and well. So, as of this point, the guy hasn't caved. He seems pretty committed to telling the government to fuck off.

  • ||

    Today, the exciting conclusion to last week's episode of Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Human Trafficker Apologist.

  • dantheserene||

    You left off the sarc tag.

  • Zeb||

    Sarc tags are cheating.

  • ant1sthenes||

    The sarc tag is the name "Gojira"

  • loveconstitution1789||

    After winning a 1st Amendment criminal complaint dismissal, he should sue for malicious prosecution among other things.

  • Rhywun||

    LOL

  • Playa Manhattan.||

    "Ongoing prostitution occurs on Backspace."

    How do you fuck inside a web server? Sounds uncomfortable.

  • ||

    The 1s get inserted into the 0s. Binary was made for fucking.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, just look at the on/off button on your monitor. Dirty.

  • Playa Manhattan.||

    Well, his is.

  • tarran||

  • Brochettaward||

    You mean the government is bringing cases against people in the complete absence of mens rea? You mean reasonable prosecutors do that? I'm shocked! SHOCKED!

  • Deep Lurker||

    The serfs have to be held strictly accountable. Members of the nobility, of course, are above such things.

  • gah87||

    Funny in a Magna Carta sort of way.
    Recall, that epic moment in history wasn't about serfs or peasants.
    It was the 1% telling the 0.01% (aka The King) that he was ruining a good thing for them and cut it the fuck out.
    So, yes, in fact you are dead on.

  • The Fusionist||

    The problem is the idea that the federal government has the authority to wage War on Vice.

    Americans used to be naive enough to believe that the Constitution actually had to be amended in order to get the feds into the vice-hunting business - this was the case with alcohol prohibition.

    But amending the Constitution is too complicated, it's much better to strain the interpretation of existing constitutional clauses to get the feds involved in drugs, prostitution, etc.

    Meanwhile, there's *another* constitutional amendment - the 13th - empowering and obligating the feds to go after a particular activity, namely slavery and involuntary servitude. Whether you're a sex slave or a coerced agricultural worker, the feds have the power and responsibility to protect you.

    But with today's anything-goes view of the Constitution, the feds have a general authority to regulate sex (and agriculture) whether the participants are slaves or consenting adults.

    Restore this consittutional distinction, and use only accurate and unbiased information about slavery (sexual or agricultural), and maybe we can keep the feds within constitutional boundaries.

  • Citizen X||

    Hang on, is he wearing an Ed Hardy shirt in that mugshot? Throw the book at him.

  • ||

    I'll withhold judgement until I know if he's wearing AXE products of some sort.

  • Citizen X||

    Ed Hardy ought to be sufficient warning. Much like the arrow frog, whose bright colors warn potential predators that it is toxic, a bro in an Ed Hardy shirt is openly advertising "Touch me and you'll get warts."

  • ||

    I'm not *supporting* the wearing of Ed Hardy, I'm just saying everyone who wears Ed Hardy should be in prison, but if he's wearing Ed Hardy AND AXE products, I think it's safe to say that society should be protected from him.

  • ||

    saying everyone

    saying NOT everyone

    *brews third pot of coffee, has cardiac event*

  • Citizen X||

    Agreed.

  • Playa Manhattan.||

    Not all people who wear AXE body spray are rapists, but all rapists wear AXE body spray.

  • ||

    I think the original joke was "date rapists"

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    "Does my cologne smell like chloroform?"

  • Citizen X||

    It's true. Many wearers of AXE haven't successfully raped anyone yet.

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    It's expensive paying for enough fruity girly drinks to get her drunk enough. Mom's allowance only stretches so far.

  • ||

    Sometimes wearing AXE is just a youthful indiscretion. Unforgivable over the age of 16 though.

  • Rhywun||

    It's OK, brah. Just don't let it happen again.

  • Lee Genes||

    Well, it is easier to smell them coming. That's working against them.

  • ||

    The first time I met my college roommate I was sitting in my room wondering why I had a metallic taste in my mouth. a few seconds later he walked through the door and I got hit with shock wave of conflicting smells. He was buying the maximally scented version of everything, and it was green apple (medicated) shampoo, spring breeze laundry detergent, old spice body wash, and a random and totally different deodorant, plus an axe knockoff cologne.

    By the second night I'd knocked the screen out of my second story window and was sleeping with my head hanging out.

    I can't tell if he was noseblind or insane, but it was an awful semester.

  • commodious pip pips, oh well||

    Ah... pussy repellant.

  • ||

    I mean, I wouldn't have been able to smell decomp over it, so possibly?

  • tarran||

    In college, I knew a guy who wore excessive amounts of cologne. He'd broken his nose a few months back, and I figure it affected his sense of smell, meaning that he was using more cologne to achieve the same apparent level of odor as he had worn before his fight.

  • tarran||

    ENB, I think you have a serious error here:

    It's simply the latest target in the U.S. government's quixotic and cruel aim to make sex-work as hidden (and dangerous) as possible.

    The definition of 'quixotic' is "exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical".

    The word I think you intended to use is 'malevolent', i.e. "having or showing a wish to do evil to others".

  • waffles||

    The clown crisis continues unabated.

  • Hamster of Doom||

    The US government is trying to stop the world's oldest profession. "Quixotic" seems appropriate.

  • tarran||

    I stand by my assertion that it is entirely a malevolent enterprise.

    They aren't trying to stamp out prostitution. They want to hurt the people who engage in it or facilitate it.

  • Hamster of Doom||

    Okay, sure. "Malevolent" is also an accurate way to describe our government.

    On the other hand, ENB's usage of quixotic was still correct, however many other words can also be used to describe the government. I not only assert this, I repeat it.

  • np||

    But likely because they also believe in it, or have the majority support of those who believe in its righteousness

  • ||

    but take one look at sections for dating and "casual encounters" and you'll see the sex trade is still totally alive and well on Craigslist.

    I will give you a hundred "roses" for a decent blowjob and gas money.

  • ||

    Hmm, that and inserted an ambiguity in my statement roses and gas money, not blowjob and gas money.

    *brews second pot of coffee*

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The scare quotes also introduce confusion, at least for this reader.

  • ||

    Scared? Not only would he get access to my rockin' Scottish-peasant-build bod and gloriously average endowment but he'd also paid for it. I'm not seeing the down side here.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Holding Reason responsible for what we in the comments say about woodchippers is idiotic and so is holding a website operator responsible for what other individuals do on his website.

    How can you establish mens rea during a "crime" in which the accused didn't even participate?

    Imagine holding hotel owners responsible for the prostitution that goes on in the rooms they rent out.

  • Zeb||

    Imagine holding hotel owners responsible for the prostitution that goes on in the rooms they rent out.

    Surely you know that that happens too.

  • Bob K||

    So is Al Gore named as a co-conspirator since he single handily created the internet? We have his admission of guilt on tape for god sake. When will this monster be brought to justice?

  • Zeb||

    He invented the internet and is a known frequenter of whores. Sounds pretty open and shut to me.

  • Tionico||

    how much tax money has been spend at federal level for this unconstitutional law "enforcement" operation? It is NOT FedGov's business to deal with civilian criminal activity.

    Should this sort of thing be going on? Of course not. But to hold this online business liable for the free associations corrupt individuals solicit in these adverts is wrong. HOW can they hold this publication responsible?

    If I buy a used car from a Craigslist advert, and the thing breaks on the way home resulting in a crash where an innocent is killed, are Craigslist guilty of homicide or manslaughter?

    OF COURSE NOT.

    Seems this is a make-work scam perpetrated by the government hooh hahs looking to APPEAR as though they are "keeping us safe"., which is decidedly NOT their job. Protecting our liberties IS.

    Now, how much MORE tax money will be squandered in feeding the "justice" system to persue some imaginary scapegoats? If people wanna trade their bodies for money, government will NEVER stop them. Why waste OUR resources in trying? Generating huge pensions we will have to pay out for decades? Yeah, and these guys talk about pimping and whoring. Who are the REAL pimps and whores?

  • cavehobbit||

    So cooperation = guilt.

    Got it.

    Have they thought this through at all....who am I kidding

  • n00bdragon||

    "Each 'Escort' was interviewed, but not arrested."

  • drsoles||

    It is a bunch of BS. I knew someone who used the adult ads to post modeling jobs (not nude or sexually oriented modeling) that were legit. He refused to respond to anyone who was under 21 responding to his ad. He met many women whom he did photo shoots with and all of them had a legitimate license to prove that they were 21 or older. The personals section of both Craigslist and Backpage are full of prostitution ads and a lot of the people who respond to ads placed on the personals section are scammers or prostitutes. What is stopping them from setting up fake dating profiles on dating sites or social networking sites? Now that they are scattering where they post ads, it will be more difficult for LE to find them and other sites may not be as willing to help LE as Backpage and Craigslist by reporting ads that they suspect are sex trafficking or other illegal ads.

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