The fate of a human trafficking lawsuit against Backpage.com is now in the hands of the Washington Supreme Court.
The justices heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that involves three underage victims of sex trafficking. The lawsuit alleges the Washington girls were pimped-out through ads posted to Backpage.com.
Erik Bauer is a lawyer for the victims. He argued Backpage has created a sex marketplace where human trafficking can flourish.
“It’s a systemic, corporate effort to make a lot of money by marketing the nation’s children including the children of the state of Washington,” Bauer said.
Jim Grant is lawyer for Village Voice Media, the owner of Backpage. He told the justices that Backpage is a content platform, not a content provider and is immune from liability under federal law.
“The alternative to immunity in this case would be to chill online speech, chill speech of the Internet,” Grant said.
The federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 does provide immunity to online service providers for content posted by third parties. This week, the attorneys’ general of Washington, Oregon and Idaho signed onto a letter that urges Congress to crack down on websites like Backpage.
The court will decide if the lawsuit can proceed.