Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


SEATTLE – On May 7, Backpage.com attorney Liz MacDougall wrote in the Seattle Times that the online marketplace, which charges a dollar and up for prostitution ads, is “an ally in the fight against human trafficking.” On Monday, Backpage attorneys filed a lawsuit against the state of Washington over a first-of-its-kind law that encourages ID checks before prostitution ads are placed online.

"Backpage executives claim to be allies in the fight against human trafficking,” McKenna said Monday night. “Yet today they filed a lawsuit to kill a law written to reduce the number of children posted for sale online. On behalf of the people of Washington state, and on behalf of human trafficking victims everywhere, we will forcefully defend this groundbreaking law."

McKenna and other public officials around the country are concerned by the number of cases involving children exploited through Backpage. In August 2011, his office announced it had found more than 50 such cases in 22 states over three years. These were cases reported by news outlets. Since that time, bloggers and others have added many more cases to the list. McKenna cautions that there are likely many additional cases not reported in the news.

Concern over the exploitation of children though sites such as Backpage led to the passage SB 6251, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. The bill makes it a crime to advertise minors for commercial sex acts and provides an affirmative defense if identification is checked before sex ads are placed online. Backpage claims it isn’t responsible for ads placed on its site because, while they charge their “adult services” customers for use of the site, Backpage employees don’t write the ads.

McKenna wrote on May 22 that, while Backpage claims to work with law enforcement to investigate trafficking crimes after they have occurred, it resists serious efforts to prevent the crimes in the first place.

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Media Contact: Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725