Backpage shutdown closes avenue used to support human trafficking

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles
Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles said Friday’s action by the federal government to block the classified advertising website Backpage.com is a positive step toward shutting down a site that has grown rich through sexual exploitation of adults and children.

“This has been a battle that has stretched over two decades,” said Kohl-Welles. “From Olympia to King County, I have worked in collaboration with government agencies and human service organizations to help end this heinous practice that has shattered lives.”

The federal government has alleged that Backpage.com has been a site that has been used by human traffickers to sell adults and children into prostitution. Backpage’s offices have been raided and their website is in the process of being shut down.

Kohl-Welles has helped lead the effort to reduce human trafficking in Washington state, which is a hotspot for labor trafficking due, in part, to its many ports and its diverse business landscape.

In 2002, Washington was the first state to establish a Task Force Against the Trafficking of Persons and in 2003 adopted legislation sponsored by Rep. Velma Veloria to criminalize human trafficking. In 2015, the task force has been renewed and expanded. Kohl-Welles also sponsored two pieces of legislation that focused on exploitation sites such as Backpage.com:

  • SB 6251 created a new crime, making it illegal to knowingly publish an escort ad online or in print that involves a minor— the first law specifically directed at Backpage. Backpage sued and a federal judge ruled it violated the 1996 federal communications decency act. Last year, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs’ right to sue Backpage.
  • SB 5488 imposes a $5,000 fine on top of existing penalties for using online ads to facilitate the commercial sexual abuse of a minor.
  • Senate Joint Memorial (SJM) 8003 requests that Congress amend the federal Communication Decency Act enacted in 1996 in order to reflect changes in the scope and role of the internet, and the publisher-like role of companies, such as backpage.com, which facilitate child sex trafficking by allowing their online platforms to run adult escort services ads without age verification of those depicted in the ads.

King County has been a leader in the effort to end human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in King County work closely with the Washington Anti-Trafficking Network (WARN), a coalition of non-governmental organizations that provides direct services to survivors of human trafficking in Washington state, assisting them on their path to restoration and recovery.

Councilmember Kohl-Welles represents the 4th District on the Council Council which is Seattle west of I-5 from Shoreline to Madison Street. She was formerly a member of the state legislature from Seattle.



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