A child sex trafficking survivor has filed a lawsuit against Village Voice Media, claiming they knowingly promoted the forced prostitution of a minor on their online classified site, Backpage.com. The suit comes just days after Craigslist testified before Congress that their “adult services” section was closed for good in the U.S. Is this lawsuit the next wave of a changing tide in the fight against online exploitation of children?
The survivor bringing the suit, identified only as M.A. since she is still a minor, was first sold into the commercial sex industry at age 14 after running away from home. Her pimp pled guilty last week to taking pornographic photos of a minor and posting them to Backpage.com, promoting sex with a minor on Backpage, and several related crimes. That child pornography was posted to Backpage and that child trafficking was facilitated through Backpage is not debated. The question is, did the operators of Backpage know these ads were 1.) pornographic pictures of a minor and 2.) promoting prostitution of that minor. The law suit claims they did, although the details as to how are left pretty vague. According to the filing,
“Defendant had a strong suspicion that the aforementioned crimes were being committed. Defendant had a desire that these posters accomplished their nefarious illegal prostitution activities so that the posters would return to the website and pay for more posting. Therefore, actual knowledge of the specific crime is unnecessary under the ‘ostrich rule’ which allows an inference of knowledge, in that at best defendant was deliberately ignorant of the specific crimes that were being committed on its website.”