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Originally published Friday, October 3, 2014 at 4:22 PM

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Editorial: State Supreme Court should act on online sex trafficking

On Oct. 21, an important sex trafficking lawsuit comes before the Washington State Supreme Court. The justices should stand up to Backpage.com and help child victims of commercial sexual exploitation seek justice.


Seattle Times Editorial

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The Washington State Supreme Court has a chance to help three child victims of sex trafficking — and many others — find justice and move on with their lives.

The court will hear oral arguments Oct. 21 on whether to allow a lawsuit against online advertising behemoth Backpage.com to go forward. The court’s ruling on J.S., S.L., and L.C. v. Village Voice Media Holdings, et al. could set an important national precedent.

The 2012 lawsuit on behalf of three girls alleges Backpage.com has normalized and increased demand for commercial sex. The site’s adult section features ads with sexually provocative photos and salacious descriptions for escort and massage services. The victims’ harrowing stories reveal they were controlled by pimps who posted ads and forced them to sell their bodies to the highest bidders — sometimes multiple times per day.

One of the victims was 15 years old and two others were in the seventh grade when their nightmares began.

Attorneys for Backpage.com want the case dismissed, claiming the Communications Decency Act shields the site from liability because the ads are posted by a third party. The court should uphold a determination in Pierce County Superior Court that federal immunity does not extend to websites that encourage criminal conduct and child exploitation.

This distinction is important: There is a difference between a website that allows third-party postings and one that creates an environment where girls and boys are advertised as sex workers and subsequently sold and raped by adult customers.

According to a 2013 report by the classified-ad research firm AIM Group, Backpage.com dominates the online sex market, making millions in profit every month.

In King County and surrounding areas, authorities estimate hundreds of girls as young as 12 are being trafficked each night. That’s why the state Supreme Court must act.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are among the many organizations that have filed “friend of the court” briefs against Backpage.com’s motion for dismissal.

Sex work is not allowed to be promoted on television, by phone or in-person. It should not be legal online, either.

Backpage.com’s shameful business practices violate basic human rights. And the state Supreme Court should say so. Our children need protection.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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