On Tuesday, January 10, in response to questions from a U.S. Senate panel investigating child sex trafficking, current and former executives of Backpage.com invoked their rights to not answer under the First and Fifth amendments.
After the witnesses were sworn in, Rob Portman, chairman of the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, advised the subpoenaed witnesses that they were free to invoke the Fifth Amendment, and he warned that if they responded in any way to any of the questions put to them other than to invoke their right to avoid self-incrimination, the subcommittee would consider that right waived.
In other words, if any of them deviated in the slightest degree from responding, "After consulting with counsel, I decline to answer your question based on the rights provided by the First and Fifth amendments," anything and everything they said could be used against them in a court of law.
So, as Portman and his fellow subcommittee members administered the sort of gang-spanking that a masochist in search of satisfaction via the recently censored "Adult" section of Backpage.com might only dream of, Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, Chief Operations Officer Andrew Padilla, general counsel Elizabeth McDougall, and former owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin kept mum.
A day after the hearing, Portman took to Twitter to tweak his target.
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, had tooted her horn even before the hearing convened:
And freshman U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who spoke at the outset of the proceedings — and who, in her previous political incarnation as California attorney general, twice filed pimping charges against current and former Backpage execs — wasn't about to miss a turn on Twitter:
Though others chimed in to cheer the subcommittee's efforts, a Twitter search for tweets hashtagged #Backpage reveals that most who voiced their opinions criticized the hearing as misguided, hypocritical, and harmful to sex workers.
Politicians, activists, and free thinkers alike weighed in with alacrity:
And the sex workers themselves were having none of it:
[SWERF, or Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism, is a term for feminists who are antagonistic toward sex workers.]
Even as the tide of tweets continues to rise, Lacey, Larkin, and Ferrer are scheduled to appear in court in Sacramento later this month to answer to Kamala Harris' second salvo, in which the attorney general-turned-senator reiterated her pimping allegations and tacked on more than two dozen counts of money laundering.