“Times are tough. I’m in college and my parents jus(t) got laid off. Money is tight, but lucky for me… so am I.”
Such is the straight-to-the-point, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination pitch offered by 19-year-old “Lauren,” one of literally hundreds of female “escorts” who offers her erotic services on various South Carolina websites each and every day.
Why is this news?
Well, last month Backpage.com – the company that hosts Lauren’s ad – unexpectedly found itself in the thick of a political battle when it was thrown under the proverbial bus by its much more famous online classifieds rival, Craigslist.
In one of the company’s more effective jabs against grandstanding S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, Craigslist pointed out that Backpage was hosting ads that were “quite explicit, quoting prices for specific sex acts, featuring close-ups of bare genitalia, etc.”
In other words, ads that were far more graphic and overt than anything Craigslist had been running.
Why was McMaster suing Craigslist and not other websites?
The conclusion was unmistakable – McMaster was targeting Craigslist for no other reason than the national headlines generated by Philip Markoff, the alleged “Craigslist killer.”
That exchange was one of many body blows absorbed by McMaster during this extended public relations debacle – a failed case that has damaged his political future and caused South Carolina national embarassment, not to mention created the perception of a “safe haven” for any sex ad that’s not affiliated with Craigslist.
After all, it’s not just Backpage that’s still running ads for sex in South Carolina.
In addition to ignoring all other national sex ad providers, McMaster has also shown zero interest in targeting South Carolina-based “erotic service” advertisers (and providers), particularly those located in the tourist-heavy Grand Strand area of the state.
Will McMaster step up and start targeting those websites?
Social conservatives say they’re ready for the law to be enforced, but stopped short of criticizing McMaster.
“I think what we need to do is enforce the state law,” said Oran Smith of the Palmetto Family Council, a leading social conservative advocacy group. “Some appeals court may weigh in eventually, but I think we need to take a look at the state law, analyze it as best we can and see who’s violating it and who isn’t.”
As for McMaster’s ill-fated crusade against Craigslist, Smith says it was “a risk” and that McMaster’s office has “taken on several things that weren’t sure winners” in the past.
He did acknowledge that “the chips didn’t all fall” the way McMaster would have liked, but added that he couldn’t find “a whole lot to criticize about the way he’s handled it.”
“From what I can tell, the good minds at the S.C. Attorney General’s office have looked at these sites and determined that they are violating the law,” Smith said. “I don’t think the Attorney General has been incredibly over the top. I think any law enforcement agency from the days of Eliot Ness to the cops working in West Columbia today have to pick their battles, and while I wasn’t privy to what was going on behind the scenes he clearly picked out someone to go after.”
Which begs the question, is he going to go after anyone else?
Because as far as we can tell, McMaster’s people have been quieter than church mice following the Craiglist debacle.