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Originally published Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 4:15 PM

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Lawmakers should keep the pressure on sex-trafficking ads

Eight out of a dozen anti-sex-trafficking bills have made it through the state Senate. The state House of Representatives now takes up the package, continuing important progress.

Seattle Times Editorial

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IMPORTANT progress combating sex trafficking should continue as the state House of Representatives takes up a package of anti-sex-trafficking legislation passed recently by the Senate.

Hearings on the bills begin Wednesday in the House Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Committee.

A dozen bills were introduced at the start of the legislative session. At the session's midpoint, the Senate has passed eight of them. Two more are in the pipeline.

Good work. As a package, the proposed rules give a stronger hand to law enforcement to crack down on pimps.

Passage of Senate Bill 6251 was particularly noteworthy. If the House approves the bill — and it should — knowingly selling or disseminating an ad for commercial sex that features a minor would become a class C felony. It would also make a defense available when the seller makes a bona fide attempt to check ID of the person in the ad and can produce a record of the identification used to verify age.

The bill's author, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, worked with state Attorney General Rob McKenna and the American Civil Liberties Union to craft a bill that protects women and children from being exploited in commercial advertising but does not violate constitutionally protected free-speech rights.

This bill is rightly aimed at Backpage.com, a robust online clearinghouse for sex escorts.

An independent study by Advanced Interactive Media Group estimated that Back-page.com's "Adult" section is expected to earn its owner, Village Voice Media, $24.8 million, accounting for more than two-thirds of the $36 million in revenue projected to be earned by all tracked online classified ads facilitating commercial sex. Village Voice Media also owns Seattle Weekly.

Dozens of cases in 15 states involve girls allegedly sold for sex on Backpage.com, according to Shared Hope International, an anti-sex-trafficking group headed by former Republican Congresswoman Linda Smith. Moreover, the Seattle Police Department has linked 22 cases of child prostitution since 2010 to girls advertised as escorts on the website.

A coalition of state attorneys general, mayors and community advocates have urged Village Voice Media to take a stronger role protecting minors from exploitation through advertisements on its website.

Pressure should continue until it does.

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