Backpage Gets a Mistrial After Prosecution Goes Too Far

Backpage Gets a Mistrial After Prosecution Goes Too Far

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It does mark a small victory for Backpage, if short-lived. More encouragingly, it might serve as a useful warning to prosecutors and policymakers who’ve historically lumped in various types of sex work with serious crimes.

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“If you conflate the entire set of areas of work that sex work can pertain to, such as dancing, online cam work, movies, prostitution, fetishes, the whole thing … if you conflate all of that with ‘sexual exploitation’ or ‘sex trafficking,’ it means that we can not have an accurate understanding of situations where people actually are in abuse,” Penelope Saunders, who’s been observing the trial in Arizona, said in a phone interview. Saunders is the executive director of the Best Practices Policy Project, an organization devoted to providing services for communities throughout the sex trade, from consensual sex workers to victims of abuse. She says that muddling the two makes it nearly impossible to distribute limited resources tailored to needs. “You would have law enforcement and immigration authorities distracted and brought in to arrest people for no reason.”

Saunders observed that the prosecution seemed to be “phoning it in” and found their approach “scattershot,” without laying out a clear legal argument.

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“I am often surprised in the courtroom how little work the prosecution has to do in cases about prostitution and sex work,” she said. “The prosecution really doesn’t have a high bar to pass.”

Lacey and Larkin, along with former Backpage employees, still have to fight 93 counts. The prosecution could have focused primarily on evidence suggesting that the group had been aware of and permitted sex work on the site.

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A status hearing is scheduled for October 5.

This post has been updated to include comment from Whitney Bernstein.

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