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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: backpage

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October 22, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Washington Supreme Court should not dismiss Backpage.com case

Just because no case law yet holds Backpage.com responsible for exploiting children, that does not mean the classified ad site should always be immune from liability. The fact is Backpage.com and other sites like it create an environment where pimps can easily post ads every night selling girls (and boys) for commercial sex work.  They do…

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Comments | Topics: backpage, backpage.com, national center for missing and exploited children

October 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM

King County, Washington state must remain at forefront of fight against sex trafficking and Backpage.com

Earlier this week, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg joined with community groups and seven local law-enforcement agencies to announce a new effort to crack down on the commercial sex industry by focusing on the thousands of  johns who fuel the demand for this illicit trade.

On Wednesday, Seattle Times reporter Sara Jean Green wrote about how recent stings have led to 105 arrests within three months. That same day, a new coalition that includes the Organization of Prostitution Survivors outlined plans to catch more buyers, deter them from committing crimes and help them to understand the harm their actions inflict upon vulnerable women and girls. The editorial board commended the collaborative project as a meaningful step toward saving these victims from a life of enslavement and manipulation by pimps.

A high number of sexual encounters these days are initiated online via seedy adult classifieds ads on sites such as Backpage.com. (King County reports there are at least 100 sites frequented on a daily basis by about 27,000 men countywide.)

As King County and police officers in Seattle, Kent, SeaTac, Federal Way, Bellevue and Des Moines prepare to take a tougher approach toward arresting and prosecuting more buyers, keep an eye out for potential actions from the state Supreme Court.

Next Tuesday, the justices will hear arguments for a case in which three girls are suing Backpage.com for damages after their former pimps posted their photos and advertised them for sex services online. Once they were able to escape the life,

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Comments | Topics: backpage, king county, prostitution

May 20, 2014 at 6:03 AM

U.S. House should pass anti-sex trafficking bills, crack down on Backpage.com

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote as early as Tuesday on several anti-sex trafficking bills. With broad support from members of both parties, these sweeping measures ought to have no problems getting passed off the floor and sent over to the U.S. Senate.

Take a look at the problem by the numbers:

  • In the U.S., up to 300,000 children are at risk of being sold for sex each year. (Source: U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Pimps and traffickers report making between $5,000 and $32,833 each week. (Source: Urban Institute)
  • In King County, conservative estimates show that between 300 and 500 boys and girls under the age of 18 are victims of commercial sexual exploitation every day. (Source: King County)

If they do indeed pull it off, then Americans should give lawmakers a rare pat on the back for working through their normally toxic relationship. Uniting behind victims of sexual exploitation is a no-brainer. But the legislation before the U.S. House this week creates some substantive changes. (The Seattle Times editorial board published a May 11 editorial in support of three of the proposed laws.) If Congress feels inspired enough to find consensus on this widespread problem, who knows. It could create enough goodwill for members to return to the table to resolve other stalled reform efforts (i.e. immigration).

One of the bills up for consideration, the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act, has caught some flak from Internet freedom advocates. To address their concerns, Samantha Vardaman, the senior director of policy for Shared Hope International, says the House Judiciary Committee amended the legislation on May 15 to ensure that federal charges and penalties are applied only to those websites that “knowingly” advertise minors.

That wording change raises the burden of proof for prosecutors and means the SAVE Act might not stop the posting of advertisements featuring commercially sexually exploited children. What’s to stop Backpage.com and its copycats from simply saying they didn’t know that photos posted on their sites are underage or victims of trafficking?

The SAVE Act is still a first step toward better, stronger policies in the future.

“It’s a thoughtful approach to introducing liability in a way that doesn’t exist currently,” Vardaman said over the phone.

Below is a list of the bills expected to be fast-tracked on Tuesday, courtesy of House Republican leadership:

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Comments | Topics: backpage, congress, sex trafficking

April 25, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Backpage.com’s adult ads continue to normalize, increase demand for sex trafficking

This Seattle Times editorial posted Thursday encourages the online community to help stop sex trafficking by refusing to sell or buy goods on Backpage.com until it stops posting adult services.

A disclaimer on the site asking users to “report suspected exploitation of minors and/or human trafficking” is disingenuous. Once viewers click “I agree” to the terms, they are exposed to illicit ads that reduce people’s daughters to faceless bodyshots and subject lines consisting of emoji characters, body measurements, ages that could be fake and suggestive pseudonyms.

Here’s a screenshot of just a few of the hundreds of listings Backpage.com allowed to be posted during the lunch hour on Wednesday. Does this look to you like a website that cares about protecting people — or promoting the dirty work of pimps?

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 6.22.46 PM

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Comments | Topics: backpage, prostitution, sex trafficking