The citizens of Washington can reassure themselves on this point: Attorney General Rob McKenna, the handicappers’ favorite to be the state’s next governor, does not spend his spare time scrolling through online sex ads. If he did, he surely wouldn’t have shown the ignorance about them he displayed on KUOW’s Weekday earlier this month.
McKenna was talking about his noisy campaign against Village Voice Media, the Seattle Weekly’s parent company, and the lucrative sex ads on its online classifieds site Backpage.com. McKenna has designated “human trafficking” the defining issue of the National Association of Attorneys General during his ongoing tenure as NAAG’s president, and made Backpage’s screening practices, which have failed to block some listings of underage prostitutes, the frontline in that campaign.
The AG suggested his ultimate targets are not merely the online pimping of juveniles, but “adult services” advertising and prostitution generally. Village Voice, he declared, should follow Craigslist's example and drop "adult services" entirely. “There’s a growing realization in this country that most prostitutes, including the adult prostitutes, are victims of human trafficking. The mythology of the happy hooker, the pretty woman, is really beginning to be exposed as just that, a myth. And even if there are a few sex workers who are volunteers, who are not controlled by pimps, the idea they should practice their trade at the expense of the 90 percent or more who are human trafficking victims is not acceptable.”
Weekday host Steve Scher noted that his suggestion seemed to go against a societal shift toward tolerance of the oldest profession. “I’m not by any means the first to reach that conclusion,” McKenna replied. “There are many feminist scholars who have pointed out that ... in almost all cases prostitutes are coerced and controlled. This is organized violence, it’s organized rape, and if you legalize prostitution you’re legalizing rape, in their view.”
“Do you agree with that?”
“Yeah, there’s a very strong case to be made for that argument…. No one thinks someone who’s 16 years old is really going to consent. But now most people realize that this idea of consent in most cases is false in all the adults as well.”
The citizens of Washington and the members of NAAG can decide whether they want an attorney general/governor or president dedicated to such a crusade. But for someone so passionate about the issue, McKenna showed a surprising indifference to the local skin trade, or at least its online exponents. “Is The Stranger on that [target] list?” Scher asked, noting that it also carries escort ads (as do the yellow pages and various circulars).
“We’re focused right now on online,” McKenna replied. “We don’t know if The Stranger has any ads that are online.”
“They do,” Scher muttered, but McKenna didn’t seem to hear. If he's curious, he should click on The Stranger’s site Naughty Northwest, “Seattle, Portland & Tacoma’s guide to Escorts, Massage, BDSM and Adult Entertainment." It is hard to believe that half a year into his highly touted campaign against one publishing company’s online sex ads, the attorney general doesn’t know that that publisher’s main local competitor is in the same business (which is not to say it necessarily goes about it in the same way).
Meanwhile, since we last reported on the furor over Backpage, Village Voice Media has responded to the threatening letter the AGs sent in August, demanding it change its practices. Instead, its lawyers amplified, at length, the excuses and justifications it had already offered. And they closed with their own implicit threat: “It is our view that any prosecution or threatened prosecution of Backstage would infringe free speech rights under the First Amendment since a government attempt to shut down part or all of a perfectly lawful website would silence vast amounts of constitutionally protected speech.”
Worse yet if that prosecution is discriminatory and selective. And more grist for Village Voice’s defense.