Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Sep 9 2014

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson has joined the latest effort to stop child sex trafficking on Backpage.com.

The Attorney General’s Office filed a “friend of the court” brief in a lawsuit filed by children who were sold as prostitutes in ads on Backpage.com. Their case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“We cannot tolerate those who, like Backpage.com, exploit and facilitate the sexual exploitation of children,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “We need to hold them accountable for their deplorable actions.”

The children allege that the website, which features paid advertising for prostitutes and children forced into prostitution, materially contributed to at least some of the content that was posted, effectively helping promote victimization of children.

Washington state tried to take action against the website in 2012, passing Senate Bill 6251, which added new penalties for posting sex ads featuring minors. However, Backpage.com convinced a federal judge that it was entitled to immunity from the penalties under the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act. The act was intended to protect internet service providers from liability for defamatory statements made by their online users and materials posted by third parties.

Among other arguments, attorneys filing the lawsuit on behalf of the child victims claim that by labeling the page containing the sex trafficking ads “Escorts,” Backpage.com specifically designed the section to facilitate prostitution.

If the Supreme Court agrees with that reasoning, then Backpage.com could be denied immunity and required to pay damages to the alleged victims.

The AGO argues in the amicus brief that the children should be allowed to conduct discovery to obtain evidence as to Backpage.com’s practices.  

Washington has long been a leader in the fight against human trafficking. Last year, Attorney General Ferguson led a bi-partisan coalition of 49 attorneys general calling on Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act to provide criminal jurisdiction to state and local prosecutors to help fight prostitution.

He has also joined with other state and territorial attorneys general in asking Congress to fund anti-trafficking programs and fighting for restitution for victims of child pornography.

At the state level, he worked to create the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Statewide Coordinating Committee, bringing together lawmakers, state and local leaders, criminal justice entities and community service providers in the fight to end child sex trafficking. 

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit  www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Alison Dempsey-Hall, Acting Communications Director