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Washington Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case

Austin Jenkins
Anti-human trafficking activists rally at the Washington Supreme Court before oral arguments in a case involving

The fate of a human-trafficking lawsuit against 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 justices must decide if the lawsuit can proceed.

The lawsuit alleges the Washington girls were pimped out through ads posted to Erik Bauer, a lawyer for the victims, argues 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 a 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 crackdown on websites like Backpage.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.