Last week, several cases involving sex trafficking of minors were linked to websites used to promote prostitution. Is it time to shut these sites down, or would doing so run afoul of free speech protections?
If you’re unfamiliar with the crime of sex trafficking, check out the infographic below that provides some general information about victims and offenders. And, to get the tech angle, take a look at this Wired magazine article that details the involvement of technology in trafficking.
In one Georgia case, two teenage girls were arrested and charged with drugging and prostituting a 14-year-old girl, and they allegedly used an unnamed online service to advertise and set up meetings with customers (video).
In a Minnesota case, an 18-year-old woman was arrested and charged with the sex trafficking of a 16-year-old developmentally delayed girl. The woman allegedly arranged for men to meet the girl through Backpage.com, a website that has long been associated with prostitution (video).
Despite the uses and abuses of sites like Backpage – and even in light of known child sex trafficking cases facilitated by the site – freedom of speech is still an issue. Some refer to efforts to close down the site simply as censorship driven by “moral panic” about sexual behavior.
Backpage has also won some court battles over laws that would have limited their business model, such as in Washington state where “U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez granted an injunction that halts a new state law that would require classified advertising companies to verify the ages of people in sex-related advertisements.”
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