Advocates say state Supreme Court case key to combatting child sex trafficking

Oct 21, 2014, 12:16 PM | Updated: 12:53 pm

Advocates for children exploited by child sex trafficking say a suit against Backpage.com being heard Wednesday by the Washington Supreme Court is critical in the fight to combat exploitation because it hits the company in the pocketbook.

Justices will consider whether the suit by three girls who say they were sold as prostitutes on the classified site should move forward. They’re ultimately seeking what could be millions in damages in the civil suit.

Backpage.com has argued the company is protected by the federal Communications Decency Act, giving it immunity from the activities of its members or users.

Former Washington Congresswoman Linda Smith is the founder of Shared Hope International – a Vancouver, Wa.-based organization aimed to eradicate sex trafficking and slavery and bring justice to abused women and children. She says Backpage.com is far and away the largest publisher of online prostitution advertising in the country.

“We have to say we cannot allow that as a society any more than we could allow Bellevue Mall being set up and people coming and shopping and people bringing slaves in and selling them,” Smith says.

While Backpage.com has been able to avoid criminal prosecution, Smith says allowing a civil suit could be key in crippling the company because money is its biggest motivation.

“You start costing them money, and they have to pay damages to these children that have been hurt. They’re not going to want to do this. They’re going to shift their focus to other kinds of business,” Smith says.

Along with the suit, Smith’s group is among a number calling on the U.S. Senate to pass a bill targeting sex trafficking on the Internet.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and dozens of other attorneys general sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Monday asking the committee to approve the Stop Advertising Victims Exploitation Act, or SAVE Act. The measure would add more oversight for Backpage.com and other websites that offer adult services.

“They’re just saying we don’t care if kids are sold online,” Smith says. “They have this place where they’re marketing the children of the United States for sex. And they’re doing it for money, pure and simple.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Advocates say state Supreme Court case key to combatting child sex trafficking