PASCO, Wash. -- Human trafficking and child prostitution is a hot button topic across the US, and even here in Eastern Washington as many websites feature online ads that exploit young girls.
State Attorney General Rob McKenna argued Friday in front of a Federal Judge in Seattle, that websites like Backpage.com, and other Internet providers should be liable for their content to protect kids from being sold for sex.
Washington law makers agreed. Last legislative session, they passed SB 6251 making "advertising commercial sex abuse of a minor," a crime. The law requires websites to prove they tried in good-faith to determine the age of an advertiser before publishing an ad by requiring government ID and keeping a copy of the ID on record.
Backpage.com attorneys say Section 230 of the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), grants Internet content and service providers broad immunity from liability for content posted by third parties
"Lawmakers from both parties sent a clear message that kids deserve more protection from pimps and johns," said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. "The fact that there have been arrests involving more than 150 kids marketed for sex on Backpage demonstrates the urgency of this new law."
Suzi Carpino works with Sunnyside's Promise program. She's is a social worker for many of the victims. She says, prostitution is very prevalent in gang life. She also says the average girl involved in the lifestyle is between 12-15 years old, and many of the pimps start out as the girl's boyfriends.
"A lot of the girls I've talked to, didn't even know they were on backpage. They were either drugged of intoxicated when the pictures were taken. So they were posted on backpage.com and that's how they solicit the buyers, the johns," says Carpino.
Today, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez heard oral arguments in response to a lawsuit brought by Backpage.com, LLC against Washington state and all 39 counties. The lawsuit asks the court to declare Senate Bill 6251 invalid and to stop its enforcement, which was scheduled to take effect June 7, 2012.
Backpage also asks to be awarded damages. Senior Assistant Attorney General Lana Weinmann, who heads the Attorney General's Criminal Justice Division, argued the state's position, that SB 6251 is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes.
The hearing today addressed Backpage's request for a preliminary injunction stopping the law. While Judge Martinez heard arguments, he issued no ruling.