• Backpage.com lawsuit could have major effect on sex trafficking

    By: Natasha Chen

    Updated:

    SEATTLE - A lawsuit filed on behalf of three local women could have huge implications on the sex trafficking industry across the country.

    Sex website Backpage.com argued in front of the state Supreme Court Tuesday, saying the case should be thrown out.

    The women said they were raped multiple times as teenagers and Backpage is partially responsible.

    According to court documents, when pimps forced the women to offer sex on the controversial website, Backpage never verified their ages and instructed sex traffickers not to use certain words or graphics to avoid scrutiny from the public and police.

    “Are these people wholesaling children in Washington state or not? Are they doing it deliberately?” asked Erik Bauer, an attorney for the victims.

    Backpage has argued it is immune from prosecution because of the 1996 Federal Communications Decency Act, which says an Internet service provider is not liable for the content posted by users.

    A Pierce County judge denied a recent request by Backpage to dismiss the case, and the Supreme Court picked up the appeal.

    The Supreme Court justices asked both sides whether the website itself is contributing, developing or creating content.

    “It’s clear that Backpage.com did not create or develop the ads that allegedly harmed the plaintiffs here,” said James Grant, an attorney for Backpage.com. “The alternative to immunity here would be to chill online speech.”

    One victim’s mother who identified herself as Nacole, said her 15-year-old daughter disappeared for three months.

    “She got on a bus, and she was in the hands of a pimp within 36 hours and being sold multiple times a day,” she said.

    She rescued her daughter from the online sex trade and said Backpage.com should be shut down.

    “You shouldn’t be able to call up or look on the Internet and find a girl and order a girl like you can order a pizza,” said the victim’s father, Tom.

    If the Supreme Court rules against Backpage, the site operators could be denied immunity and required to pay damages.

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