Craigslist.com closed their "Erotic Services" section in 2009, under increasing pressure from the Justice Department and consumers. In response, much of the online prostitution jumped over to the Village Voice-owned site Backpage.com, which currently dominates the market (disclosure: Creative Loafing publishes classified ads on Backpage.com, although not for adult services). In Tampa, more than 480 new ads for adult services were posted to Backpage.com on Monday alone, with at least 230 of them tagged "Escort." Many of these had disclaimers saying that hourly rates were for "companionship only," and not for sex. But the photos suggest otherwise.
Unlike Craigslist.com, Backpage appears to welcome the chance to litigate any challenges to its adult services section. Their case is girded by a 1996 law that absolved individual websites of responsibility for illegal content posted by users. Last month, lawyers for Backpage.com won a victory in court when a judge dismissed a lawsuit that had been brought on behalf of a teenage girl forced into prostitution and sold by a pimp through Backpage.com.
As prostitution continues its steady migration from the street corner to the Internet, sites like Backpage are well-positioned to play an even bigger role at 2012 political conventions than Craigslist did in 2008. But a lot can happen in 12 months, and Backpage has powerful enemies. As the site fends off external threats, the toughest criticism leveled at the Mons Venus club may come from the owner himself. "I would never frequent a strip club if I didn't own one," Redner said. "I don't like to be teased."