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:
After our report last night. BACKPAGE SHUT DOWN ITS SEX CLASSIFIEDS. Investigations matter. Hearing this morning w/ Backpage execs.— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) January 10, 2017
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:
I’m here to fight for you and the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society. This fight will be long & hard but I won’t back down.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 9, 2017
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:
Sex work is a real job. The only job for thousands of people with disabilities. They do not even have the street option, and need #backpage— Sara Risque (@SaraRisque) January 11, 2017
SWERFs disgust me. Y'all realize that shutting down #backpage just moves the pimps and traffickers further underground right?— EVEE ? (@EveeLux) January 11, 2017
[SWERF, or Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminism, is a term for feminists who are antagonistic toward sex workers.]
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Without #Backpage many individuals who engage in sex work will lose their Home, access to food, healthcare ,safety, Independence and life— monica jones (@tslove602) January 10, 2017
So much love and rage for the women targeted by the #backpage censorship. There is nothing more cruel than "morality" in America, truly.— Miss Aria Wilde (@AriaSwitch) January 10, 2017
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.