Liberal feminists conspire with social conservatives

On Jan. 10, readers of the Reno Backpage website were startled to see the entire adult section marked “Censored.” Gone were the ads for escorts, strippers, transsexual escorts, male escorts, erotic masseurs, even phone sex ads. If you click, there is an announcement that the “government has unconstitutionally censored this content.”

Whenever a liberal feminist politician talks to a socially conservative politician, no doubt they’re conspiring to harass sex work. This truism revealed itself again as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, told social conservative nominee for attorney general Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing that “human sex trafficking was the second largest criminal activity in the United States.” Human trafficking costs are estimated at $9 billion a year, but up to 75 percent of that is labor trafficking—i.e., exploitation of immigrants. Since the drug trade is worth $100 billion, and Medicare fraud is estimated at $60 billion, Feinstein’s estimate was not in the same league, never mind ballpark. She also repeated the debunked untruth that the “average age” of trafficking victims was 12-14 years. How many six-year-olds do you see strutting on Fourth Street? A Department of Justice study released in June 2016 concluded there could be as few as 4,500 underage youth in the sex trade, and only 15 percent had pimps.

Feinstein’s fake statistics fuel the growth of sex trafficking laws that punish actual adult working women and their clients to satisfy politicians’ lust for power. Moral panics like “sex trafficking” usually last about 20 years. The sex trafficking panic started about 2000, and the cracks are beginning to show in the foundation. Thanks to fact checkers like Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, numerous sociological studies, and human rights organizations like Amnesty International that call for decriminalization of sex work, the sheen is starting to rub off this little moral crusade. But politicians often shamelessly beat dead horses, and laws passed to solve the nearly non-existent problem have exploded at the state level. More than 40 states, including Nevada, now have sex-trafficking laws on the books.

But it was not laws as such that forced Backpage, Craigslist,, and others to shut down their adult sections. Rather, it was extralegal, unconstitutional harassment by government that simply made it too hard to do business. Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act protects third party web publishers from liability stemming from users’ posts. This not only protects Backpage, but also protects Facebook, Reddit and countless other user forum websites from prosecution. Federal Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner called the Backpage harassment “unauthorized, unregulated, foolproof, lawless government coercion.” The attack on sexual services is a backdoor attack on free speech and Section 230 itself.

The straw that broke Backpage’s back was the arrest of owner Carl Ferrer last October, ordered by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a U.S. senator. A federal judge soon dismissed the case, but years of federal lawsuits, economic pressure, threats and now attempted prosecution have made what Harris called the “World’s Largest Online Brothel” shut down its adult content.

True, some escorts simply slid over to the “dating” section. But going another level underground makes it harder to state how many “roses” are expected for what amount of escort time. Transaction costs are higher as free commercial speech is trashed to satisfy the prudish greed of the political class.

Sex work is older than the pyramids. It will find a way. Studies show, however, that where online sex work is banned, some providers resort to streetwalking, the most dangerous way for sex workers to meet clients. But, if it saves one child!