Escort Classifieds Provider Backpage Sues Chicago Sheriff
Thomas Dart is just such a sheriff, in America’s second-most populated county, Cook County, Illinois, which encompasses Chicago. Last year, 292 out of 457 Chicago murder cases went without a suspect charged, but Dart is not making the headlines for that reason. He’s making the headlines because he took the time to write letters to Visa and MasterCard, asking that they stop processing classified orders for Backpage.com, a classifieds website similar to Craigslist.
The difference between Backpage and Craigslist is that Craigslist did away with its “escorts” category in 2010. An escort is a type of prostitute. Here (NSFW!) is an example of the criminal that Dart is focusing on, rather than the overwhelming number of apparently unsolved homicides.
After significant effort, Dart has succeeded in his goal. Both MasterCard and Visa took to blocking Backpage transactions earlier in the month. Take note, there are plenty of other uses of the site; all the same that Craigslist has, in fact.
In response, Backpage was forced to accept bitcoins exclusively, capitalizing on the censorship-resistance of the digital currency. At the same time, there is a significant learning curve that comes with using Bitcoin, an entire book written on the subject of “mastering” it, such that this is a poison pill for Backpage to swallow. Briefly, Backpage appeared to have found an alternative way to get Visa transactions through, but that worked for less than two days.
See You In Court!
Backpage is suing Thomas Dart because they claim he has used unacceptable avenues to destroy their business, and now they want him to pay for it. Readers would be keen to note that in 2009, Dart filed suit against Craigslist regarding its escorts section. The case was thrown out. In a complaint filed in federal court against the sheriff, Backpage lawyers write:
When in 2010, Craiglist caved in to quasi-official pressure and removed its “adult services” category, Sheriff Dart shifted his focus to Backpage.com, threatening criminal investigations and prosecution unless it also eliminated its adult category and escort ads on the site. Consistent with Backpage.com’s longstanding efforts to preclude improper ads and assist law enforcement, it sought to work with Sheriff Dart’s office on screening and security measures, including requiring the use of credit cards for adult ads, which Sheriff Dart requested at the time and Backpage.com has long done. But Backpage.com refused to capitulate to the Sheriff’s demands for censorship.
For Dart’s part, he and his supporters seem to believe firmly that the women selling their personal services through Backpage.com are victims of human trafficking. He speaks of hundreds of arrests but rarely alludes to the busting of sex trafficking rings. From a logical standpoint, the introduction of a classifieds website affords the prostitute: 1) a clear reason not to need a pimp; 2) the ability to screen clients efficiently; 3) a chance to leave a paper trail in the event of mishaps, to aid Sheriff Dart and those like him in finding their killers.
Backpage’s General Counsel, Liz McDougall, told Talking Points Memo the company’s aim is “to ensure that one elected official, particularly a county sheriff, cannot dictate what speech is or is not appropriate.”
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