Washington settles lawsuit by Backpage over escort ads

An ad posted Dec. 13 on for a woman who goes by Chanel who offers escort services in the Federal Way area. - Courtesy photo
An ad posted Dec. 13 on for a woman who goes by Chanel who offers escort services in the Federal Way area.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Earlier this month, the Washington State Attorney's General Office settled a lawsuit brought by the website Backpage against Washington state, citing a judge's decision, and the difficulty of a possible appeal, as the reason for settling with the site.

"We disagree with Judge Martinez," Attorney General Rob McKenna said, referencing the U.S. District Court judge who sided with the website, citing free speech concerns over the site's ability to advertise child prostitution. McKenna said that unless Congress revises section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), an appeal would be too costly.

"We do not believe that advertisements for a service illegal in every state — prostitution — are protected by the Constitution. That part of his decision would likely be overturned upon appeal," he said. "It is unfortunate because of this ruling, Backpage will continue to profit for sex ads for kids and others. Congress must revisit the CDA in order to close a loophole that allows companies such as Backpage to make millions in advertising an illegal service that takes a particularly devastating toll on children."

All of this came in response to the passage of Senate Bill 6251 in Washington state, which was aimed at protecting children by adding new penalties for posting ads featuring minors.

According to the AG's office, hundreds of cases of child prostitution and sex trafficking have been traced back to Backpage's ads. Backpage charges $5 for ads to be posted to its site, and has been heavily criticized for the number of ads that end up featuring minors.

In the Dec. 6 settlement, it was decided that the state will pay $200,000 in attorneys fees to Backpage, and also work with the Legislature to repeal SB 6251. McKenna hopes Washington state legislators will continue the fight, he said.

"Washington state lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, are national leaders on this important issue," he said. "I encourage them to keep the pressure on Backpage and other sex trafficking profiteers."


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