TACOMA, Wash. (CN) – Three girls claim in court that they were “all raped by adults multiple times,” and that Village Voice Media was “well aware” its Backpage.com was being used by professional pimps for sex trafficking.
Two girls were 13 and one was 15 when “professional adult pimps” advertised them as prostitutes on Backpage.com, which “at no time” tried to verify their ages or do anything to protect them, according to the complaint in Pierce County Court.
“Two of the girls were 13 years old and one girl was 15 years old when they ran away from home and became controlled by professional adult pimps who posted advertisements for the girls on the Backpage.com escort website, a website owned, operated, designed, and controlled by the Backpage.com defendants. Hundreds of customers responded to the Backpage.com advertisements, and the girls were all raped by adults multiple times as a result,” the complaint states.
“The Backpage.com defendants were well aware that their website was being used in this way because they developed and required content to ensure that young girls, like the plaintiffs, would continue to be advertised in this manner. The Backpage.com defendants did so because of the millions of dollars that they generated from the website every month.”
The girls, J.S., S.L. and L.C., sued Village Voice Media Holdings dba Backpage.com, and a pimp, Baruti Hopson, who they say is in prison.
J.S. claims Hopson took “lascivious photographs” of her that showed she was a minor and posted them on Backpage under the escort advertisements.
“As a result of this arrangement between Hopson and Backpage.com, multiple prostitution customers contacted J.S. and paid Hopson a fee in order to have sex with her. As a result of Backpage.com’s relationship and agreement with Hopson, J.S. engaged in sexual activities with adults, including sexual intercourse with multiple adult customers per day for several months,” the complaint states.
S.L. says she was 13 when two adult pimps photographed her for a Backpage advertisement.
“The pimps complied with Backpage.com’s content requirements and used those requirements to advertise S.L. for sex, as, upon information and belief, Backpage.com intended. At no time did Backpage.com attempt to verify S.L.’s age or to otherwise protect her from being advertised for sex on Backpage.com. Neither S.L. nor any parent or legal guardian consented to having her photograph or information appear on Backpage.com, and neither S.L. nor any parent or legal guardian consented to S.L. having sex with the many adults who had sex with her because of the advertisements on Backpage.com,” the complaint states.
L.C. says she was 13 and “barely one month out of seventh grade” when her picture was posted as an escort on Backpage. L.C claims she “was raped by hundreds of adult prostitution customers – as many as twenty per day.”
The girls claim that Backpage “does more to promote illicit human sex trafficking than any other single entity in the United States,” and has knowingly developed a reputation as a site where “pimps and prostitutes advertise commercial sex and where commercial sex customers can find it.”
They claim that Backpage developed content requirements to “assist pimps and prostitutes in avoiding detection so that Backpage.com can continue profiting from their illegal activities.”
For example, advertisers cannot offer “sex for sale,” but can ask for “donations” for an “escort,” and the site allows blurred photographs that conceal the escort’s identity, the complaint states.
“Upon information and belief, the use of cropped or blurred photographs that obscure the identity of the prostitute is another law enforcement evasion technique that Backpage.com allows on its website, knowing that this particular technique is commonly employed by pimps in order to obscure the identity and age of child prostitutes, including runaways or other victims sought by police and concerned parents,” according to the complaint.
The girls call Backpage user requirements – that the advertiser must be at least 18 and may not post ads that solicit sex for money or exploit minors – a “fraud and a ruse that is aimed at helping pimps, prostitutes, and Backpage.com evade law enforcement by giving the appearance that Backpage.com does not allow sex trafficking on its website.”
“Upon further information and belief, other than requiring the poster of the ad to agree to this term by ‘clicking’ on the posting rules page, Backpage.com does nothing to verify the age of the escorts who appear in its prostitution ads, even though it knows that pimps are the ones who usually create the ads, or force their minor sex slaves to do so, and even though it knows that this ‘requirement’ does nothing to meaningfully deter the use of its website for sex trafficking of minors,” the complaint states.
Backpage and its corporate parent Village Voice Media Holdings sued Washington State in June to stop enforcement of a new child sex-trafficking law that requires publishers to verify the age of people shown in sex ads. Enforcement of the law has been enjoined until the case is heard in Federal Court.
The girls seek general and special damages for negligence, outrage, sexual exploitation of children, unjust enrichment, invasion of privacy, sexual assault and civil conspiracy.
They are represented by Eric Bauer and Michael Pfau, with Pfau Cochran Vertetis & Amala.