Arguments by lawyers for Backpage.com, suing over a Washington law allow prosecution of those who publish sex-related ads depicting children, should not pass legal muster. U.S. District Judge Court Judge Ricardo Martinez should uphold an age-verification law for sex-related online advertisements.
VILLAGE Voice Media’s arguments against Washington state’s age-verification rules for sex-related advertisements were anything but compelling.
In a federal court hearing Friday in Seattle, there did not seem to be much disagreement between lawyers for the state and Village Voice that at least some of the 100,000 minors forced into prostitution every year are advertised and sold on Backpage.com. The heartbreaking trafficking of minors on Backpage led to this state’s law allowing prosecution of those who publish sex-related ads depicting children, unless they can prove they tried to confirm the person in the ad was not a minor.
Village Voice lawyers adopted two different tactics in arguments before U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez. One is that Washington’s law is so broad it could extend to dating sites, including Facebook or Twitter. Untrue. Those social-networking sites do not rely on a business model based on selling women and teenagers online for sex. Backpage.com does and it reportedly earns $22 million annually doing so.
Second, Village Voice argued that a free and open Internet means states cannot tamp down on online prostitution, particularly when it involves minors. But the nation’s largest digital-rights and media-reform organization, Strategy for Free Press, counters that claim, saying free speech is not a defense for the sexual exploitation of children. We could not agree more.
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The lawyers also warn pimps may migrate to new websites, including those overseas and beyond the reach of Washington’s law. Let’s start here.
Attorneys general representing 48 states have tried without success to shut down Backpage’s adult section. Judge Martinez should uphold Washington’s new law. It can be a national model.