Three sex trafficking victims have brought a lawsuit against BackPage.com. The victims claim that the website helps promote the exploitation of children. Lawyers for the victims claim that the girls were sold as prostitutes through ads on BackPage.com. BackPage says that the lawsuit is an attempt at censorship and has asked a judge to dismiss the case. The judge declined, BackPage appealed.
The Washington Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. BackPage believes the case should be thrown out because the Communications Decency Act of 1996 gives it immunity from the activities of its members. The victims say they were raped multiple times when they were teenagers and that the website is partially responsible for their sex trafficking.
KiroTV.com reported, “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.”
During the arguments, the Supreme Court Justice’s asked both sides whether BackPage was part of contributing, developing or creating content for the website. The attorney for BackPage claimed that it was clear that his client did not create or develop the ads that allegedly harmed the plaintiffs. He argues that this is an effort to chill online speech.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was the first attempt by the United States to regulate pornographic material on the internet. It criminalized the transmission of materials that were “obscene or indecent” to persons known to be under 18. However, many portions of CDA have been struck down for violating the right to free speech.
The BackPage lawsuit could have a major effect on sex trafficking. The ruling in the case could also have a huge impact on free speech in the online world.
If you suspect child sex trafficking, it should be reported to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.