Amidst the United States governments’ crackdown on sex work and sex workers, the online listings site Backpage.com has been seized. The site, which was previously a safe haven for women in the sex work industry to post advertisements and have a relatively safe way to contact customers, was seized on April 6th, the same day that site founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were arrested and jailed.
Michael Lacey, co-founder of Backpage and First Amendment proponent, was planning on celebrating his recent wedding on April 7th, but this was a no-go after the FBI raided his house in an armed invasion and arrested him and his business partner.
The reason for the raid and arrest? Essentially, a moral outcry, including claims that the website sold children for sex. Consensual adult sex work and advertising, however, is significantly different from sex trafficking, which involves minors, who by rule cannot consent. Thankfully, the FBI’s own statistics don’t support the “epidemic” that many proponents of the Backpage shutdown seem to think is happening.
The seizing of Backpage is only one part of the crusade against theoretically “morally indecent” websites.
The recently passed Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which passed on February 27th, and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which makes it illegal for anyone to knowingly support or assist a violation of sex trafficking laws, sound good in principle, but in a world where the “moral minority” includes homophobes and those vehemently opposed to a woman’s right to choice, these laws can have devastating effects. Learn more about James Larkin and Michael Lacey: http://www.laceyandlarkinfronterafund.org/about-lacey-larkin-frontera-fund/jim-larkin/ and http://www.laceyandlarkinfronterafund.org/about-lacey-larkin-frontera-fund/michael-lacey/
Afraid of the potential legal problems that may occur as a result of supporting sex work and sexually explicit material, Craigslist has shut down its personals section, Reddit has deleted subreddits relating to sex work, Microsoft has banned “offensive language” in its terms of service, and many other websites and services have taken similar steps.
Along with the shutting down of Backstage, these changes could spell doom for sex workers and make it impossible for them to safely find clients. FOSTA became law on April 11th.
Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin have a long history of standing up for First Amendment rights in the face of unjust political situations. In 1970, along with others, they founded the Phoenix New Times in response to unjust coverage of political protests at their college.
That one newspaper soon grew into an empire, which became Village Voice Media, and consisted of Phoenix New Times plus sixteen alternative newspapers.
In 2007, they were arrested under the administration of Joe Arpaio on charges that later turned out to be bogus, and were really a result of Lacey and Larkin speaking out against Arpaio’s many illegal acts against immigrants and non-white Arizonians. Read more: Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund and Michael Lacey | LinkedIn
The Maricopa County court eventually recognized how illegal this act was in 2013, paying $3.75 million to Larkin and Lacey to settle a lawsuit. Lacey and Larkin used the money from the settlement to found the Lacey & Larkin Frontera Fund, an organization dedicated to helping Latin-American groups.