NYC Advocates: Backpage Case Will Make It Easier to Protect Children

Washington Supreme Court rules that websites can be held accountable for hosting sexual content

Activists protest Backpage's "escort services" site in 2012. A new court ruling says pimps used that section of the site to lure underage prostitutes. (Photo: Melissa Gira Grant/Observer)

Activists protest Backpage’s “escort services” site in 2012. A new court ruling says pimps used that section of the site to lure underage prostitutes. (Photo: Melissa Gira Grant/Observer) Melissa Gira Grant/Observer

New York City advocates were already working to identify children being bought and sold as prostitutes on Backpage.com, and the recent ruling against the company by three young girls in Washington should give them a stronger hand.

Christopher McKniff, a spokesman for the city Administration for Children’s Services, told the Observer that the Backpage verdict would strengthen the work the organization was already doing to prevent incidents like the Washington case from happening in New York City.

“In addition to our comprehensive policy, ACS has recently invested in strengthening both our investigative capacity and our clinical expertise related to commercial sexual exploitation,” Mr. McKniff said in an email. “We have partnered with the state, other city agencies and our preventive, foster care and specialized providers to build a continuum of services for CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children).”

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that Backpage could be held accountable in the case of three girls being bought and sold as prostitutes on the site.

Backpage had attempted to dismiss the suit under the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996, which says that websites cannot be punished for hosting content developed by others. The site’s motion was denied, however.

The three plaintiffs, who were in seventh and ninth grade when the lawsuit was filed, were “the repeated victims of horrific acts committed in the shadows of the law,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote for the majority. “They brought this suit in part to bring light to some of those shadows.”

The suit claims that Backpage’s rules for posting “escort services” ads gave pimps back doors to evade the law and put young girls up for sale.

“Companies like Backpage.com cannot knowingly profit from sex trafficking just because it is a website,” Jason Amala, an attorney for the defense, told the Seattle Times. “Congress never intended to grant that sort of protection to websites.”

On a commercial level, companies like American Express, Visa and MasterCard have stopped doing business with Backpage.

The three dissenting justices said that Backpage was an information service provider which cannot independently create content, and thus the site is protected from liability under the Communications Decency Act.

NYC Advocates: Backpage Case Will Make It Easier to Protect Children