Human Trafficking Victims Sue Website Used to Conduct Cybersex Sting

June 29, 2015 by David S. Seltzer

An ongoing police operation has led to dozens of arrests on solicitation and human trafficking charges, according to the Providence Police Department and the city's Major Jorge Elorza. Throughout this operation, police have focused on the classified ad Backpage, posing as prostitutes and luring the defendants in.

Thanks to recent changes in federal human trafficking laws and the laws of states like Rhode Island and its neighbor, Massachusetts, neither of which prosecute sex workers under the age of 18, there has been an interesting development to come out of this focus on Backpage. Two victims, now 17 and 20, are suing the website for the role it played in their having been sold for sex 1,900 times. The publication has vehemently protested that Backpage, or any other website, could be considered a third party in human trafficking.

Suing parties in human trafficking cases through the civil court has been an option since the amended Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, but few cases have come forward. The verdict in this case could potentially mark a new development in the ongoing effort to define and fight federal cybersex crimes.

Back in Rhode Island, Major Elorza is also looking for ways to bring civil action against the website, claiming that Backpage has "willfully and knowingly" allowed itself to be used to facilitate prostitution and human trafficking. The citizens of Providence have expressed public outrage at the website as well, pointing out that prostitutes and johns have used Backpage repeatedly to post their services and arrange meetings.

It remains to be seen what impact this scrutiny on Web publications will have on the underage sex industry -- or indeed, what impact civil suits will have on the First Amendment rights of publications like Backpage. Without doubt, going after the publications themselves ushers forth a whole new chapter in the fight against child solicitation in the U.S. 

Your freedom and future may be at stake as a result of false charges of online cybercrime or solicitation. We can help. Call Seltzer Law, P.A. right now at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) for a free and confidential consultation.