Last month, California attorney, Kamala Harris, swung hard at Backpage.com CEO, Carl Ferrer, as she tried to charge him with nine counts of pimping, five of which cases she alleged involved minors. Her efforts to put Ferrer behind bars consisted of accusing Ferrer of profiting off of illegal activity found on his sites, primarily prostitution and sexual exploitation. This court case, which resulted in Carl Ferrer’s case being dismissed, highlights several important aspects of Backpage that we’d like to discuss here.
As can be seen by Harris’ defeat and the dismissal of Carl Ferrer’s case, sites like Backpage are protected by federal law. The owners of sites like, Backpage, Tinder, Plenty of Fish and Adam4Adam have nothing holding them accountable for pushing the illegal portions of their sites, and users must pay to enter the adult only section of most of these types of sites. As a result, the owners of the sites profit heavily from the illegal activity that occurs.
What this means for individuals who already are, or are thinking about going, online for illegal activity, is that it is important to be cognizant of the odds stacked against you before you go online looking for illegal services. Those people must really be careful here in the Valley when prostitution sting operations are in full flux. The various police agencies tend to have these operations during major events like the upcoming Waste Management Open and Final Four.
At every turn online there are traps set by both state agencies and the creators of whatever app/site being used. Police officers will pose as individuals soliciting sex acts during these stings and try to catch those trying to make a monetary exchange for sex. Then, Backpage itself could be luring individuals to the adult only section of their site due to the higher volume and demand in the coming months, in order to increase profits. It is important to be cognizant of “too-good-to-be-true scenarios” and emerging new sites. Remember, you will have to assume that every person behind the other screen is an undercover officer.
Harris’ failed prosecution of Ferrer also got us thinking about another item that can sometimes involve our clients. One of Harris’ prerogatives seems to be that she’ll combat human trafficking and often conflate the term with prostitution involving consenting adults. While we do not condone any type of criminal activity, many can agree that prostitution involving consenting adults and human trafficking are two very different things. However, sometimes in sex sting operations, especially involving Backpage, many prostitution crimes are drudged up in the wider net cast for human traffickers.
The State often asks for harsher punishments under the guise that prostitution of any kind promotes the need for human trafficking, when that is not often the case. Clearly, there are key differences between the two. First, the act of prostitution has been around for hundreds of years and it is the oldest profession of all time, when it is between two consenting adults. Whereas human trafficking is a profound pandemic that is affecting thousands of young women worldwide with non-consenting victims. Prostitution, which is commonly charged as a misdemeanor here in Arizona, should not be conflated with human trafficking and defendants should not be similarly charged. In addition, people who are wrapped into the narrative of human trafficking because of sting operations where there is no actual victim are forced to be ridiculed by the media, their family, and their friends, because of being wrapped up in that narrative.
This complicated and challenging problem of Backpage and related sites/apps is that it results in the law constantly having to change to keep up with new and emerging technology. This is why it is so important to find an attorney that is dedicated to studying the law, continuing to learn new ways the laws are being applied, and who is experienced with these types of cases. Cindy Castillo at Castillo Law is one such attorney. She is available 24/7 to take your call at 480-206-5204 or fill out our contact form here.