SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, along with county prosecutors from across the state, has filed a response to a lawsuit from the online classified website Backpage.com.
"Backpage warns that if they close their 'adult services' section, prostitution ads - and presumably ads featuring kids - will move underground," McKenna said. "Apparently Backpage wants to keep the ads above ground where they may continue to profit from them."
This year, the state of Washington passed SB 6251 to add new penalties for posting sex ads featuring children. A built-in defense is provided by the law for sites that check IDs prior to allowing people to post "adult services" ad, McKenna says.
McKenna's brief, filed in Washington federal court, says that only sites that knowingly publish and profit from prostitution ads are subject to SB 6251.
The law is consistent with federal law and the U.S. Constitution, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said. Satterberg said that law is badly needed.
Backpage, in addition to claiming Constitutional protection, also claims that it is protected by the federal Communications Decency Act. McKenna's brief, however, argues that the CDA only provides immunity from lawsuits and does not prevent the enforcement of a state criminal law.
"Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a shield, not a sword, and it cannot be used offensively in a case that is not an application of SB 6251," McKenna said.
Thirty-one states have reported on cases of more than 150 minors who were posted for sale on Backpage. McKenna's said that the arrests are only the tip of the iceberg.
"Attorneys for Backpage claim to be allies in the fight against human trafficking, yet they've filed a lawsuit to stop a law shielding kids from being sold for sex," McKenna said. "Among several claims in their lawsuit, Backpage tries to hide behind the Constitution. But commercial sex acts with kids are illegal and ads for such crimes are obviously not protected by our founding documents."