Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, has introduced SB 6492, which aims to hold responsible Backpage.com and similar websites that are alleged to have helped develop content and host advertisements featuring children for commercial sex purposes on their websites.
This bill, which is scheduled for a hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23, in the Senate Law and Justice Committee, was brought forward to combat sex trafficking of minors in Washington state. Law enforcement confirms that child sex trafficking frequently occurs on the Internet. According to court records, minors are bought and sold on websites like Backpage that display classified advertisements placed by sex traffickers promoting minors and vulnerable adults as “escorts.”
“We have an opportunity to take a significant step toward helping child sex trafficking victims recover damages from websites like Backpage,” said O’Ban. “Washington state is a leader on this issue, and we need to continue the fight against sex trafficking and set an example for the rest of the country that we will not tolerate these despicable websites within our borders.”
Backpage is a classified advertising website founded in 2004. According to news articles, after Craigslist ended their adult ad section in response to public pressure in 2010, Backpage’s adult and child sex ads and subsequent profit margins began to soar. Backpage came under scrutiny in 2011 for allegations that their adult services subsection was used for prostitution and human trafficking, particularly trafficking of minors. By 2014, Backpage had a profitability margin of 82 percent, compared with a 9.3 percent average for similar online service companies.