Are You a Legal Professional?

FindLaw KnowledgeBase

Washington Attorney General Targets Sex Crime Activity on Backpage.com
Online advertiser Backpage.com is coming under fire by a group of state attorneys general for allegedly facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking. Learn more about Washington State’s involvement.

In many popular printed publications like The Stranger and Seattle Weekly. adult ads are traditionally relegated to the last few pages. On the internet, Backpage.com represents the electronic version of these adult-themed “back pages.”

Backpage.com has operated as a successful online business for years, contributing substantially to the estimated $22.7 million earned annually by parent company Village Voice Media for adult services advertisements. But now, a coalition of state attorneys general is taking aim at the website for what they see as a failure to remove content advertising prostitution and other illegal sexual services.

Washington Sex Crime Case Spurs Attorney General’s Involvement

On Aug. 31, 2011, a group of 46 state attorneys general sent a letter to Backpage.com’s lawyers asking that the website either shut down its escort section or disclose the details of its efforts to filter illegal content. Officially, it is a violation of the website’s terms of use to post any advertisement soliciting an illegal service, and Backpage.com claims to have policies in place to limit unlawful activity.

The letter referenced one specific case being prosecuted in Washington State in which two adults allegedly forced teenage girls to have sex with men who answered an online advertisement on Backpage.com. Suspicion that Backpage.com was facilitating prostitution and human trafficking in this case and others prompted a strong reaction from Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, who appears to be focusing the state’s efforts on ending these quasi-legal methods of advertising a very old profession. The degree that this headline-seeking political move will actually end or significantly affect the number of pimps who target and abuse very young girls remains to be seen. However, it does put Backpage.com in an uncomfortable position.

“The only way for Backpage.com to completely stop child sex trafficking on its site is to take down adult services advertisements altogether,” said McKenna in an official press release. This approach would seem to advance a more true form of puritanical law under the guise of a very appealing slogan: preventing children from being abused. Considering McKenna’s leadership role among the attorneys general who sent the letter, it came as little surprise that Village Voice board member Don Moon recently paid the Washington State Attorney General’s Office a personal visit.

However, the meeting may have been far from friendly. Moon, in a forthcoming fashion, acknowledged that prostitution advertisements appear on Backpage.com. In an article published by Village Voice earlier in the summer, the company went so far as to call their critics “prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession.”

Sex Crimes Defense in Seattle

The attention Backpage.com is attracting and the intense involvement of Washington’s own attorney general could mean stepped-up illegal sexual services enforcement statewide. Unfortunately, the law requires “Johns” to check the driver’s license of any prostitute where there is a question as to her age — an unrealistic proposition for a lot of obvious reasons. Any John who mistakenly solicits an underage prostitute can be pulled into a serious felony charge. Sex crime charges involving people under the age of 18, even if a John does not intentionally seek such a juvenile, are very serious and are enforced by laws that impose strict liability.

It remains to be seen if this latest political rankling will add Johns who wanted to commit the crime of prostitution with a girl of legal age (a misdemeanor) to the growing list of men sent to prisons and sex offender registration lists instead of keeping the focus on treatment for the underage girls being used and abused and/or effective punishment for the pimps who will use anyone and anything to turn a buck.

Keywords: Backpage.com, prostitution, sex crime, sexual services, illegal, Washington
FindLaw
We provide legal information, lawyer profiles and a community to help you make the best legal decisions. Here are a few ways to get started:

Find a Lawyer | Learn About the Law
View FindLaw.com: Mobile or