Legal Momentum—The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, represented by Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case against Backpage.com for facilitating the buying and selling of children for sex. The case is Jane Doe et al. v. Backpage.com LLC, in which the website Backpage.com is charged with knowingly profiting from the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The case against Backpage.com was filed by three women who were sold on Backpage.com beginning at age 15 and were raped thousands of times in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as a result. According to court documents, Jane Doe No. 1 estimates that she was advertised on Backpage.com as many as 300 times, often simultaneously in multiple cities. Jane Doe No. 2’s traffickers posted advertisements of her an average of six times per day. Jane Doe No. 3’s traffickers also posted repeated advertisements of her each day.
Despite this obvious harm to the women, the case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge in Boston. The dismissal was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that a 1996 federal law, the Communications Decency Act, protects Backpage.com against being sued.
In an amicus curiae brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, Boies, Schiller & Flexner and Legal Momentum argue that Congress never intended for the Communications Decency Act to permit a website operator to deliberately create a forum for, and profit from, criminal activity, especially the sex trafficking of minors. The brief was also filed on behalf of a coalition of organizations and individuals that provide support to survivors and educate the public on the harm caused by sex trafficking, including Cindy McCain, Florida Abolitionist, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, the Organization for Prostitution Survivors, Rising International, Sojourner Center, StolenYouth, StreetLightUSA, and the YWCA of Silicon Valley.
“The sex trafficking of children is an evil of our society, and the internet is the primary method of advertising children for sex. The Supreme Court should decide whether Congress intended to protect websites engaged in this type of activity,” said Boies, Schiller & Flexner Chairman David Boies.
Carol Robles-Román, the President and CEO of Legal Momentum, said, “Three young girls experienced terrible suffering because of Backpage.com, whose business model features ads that offer children for sex. The First Circuit held that this is legal because of a federal law, the Communications Decency Act. We ask the U.S. Supreme Court to accept this case. A law whose clear intent was to protect children from harmful materials cannot be perverted to give blanket immunity to website operators that provide an online marketplace for pedophiles.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has reported that over the last five years it has seen a 98 percent increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking, much of it online. In fact, nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of the recent child sex trafficking reports it receives have a link to Backpage.com. Backpage.com brings in roughly $9 million in revenue per month through sales of adult services ads, which include sex ads selling children.
Earlier this month, Carl Ferrer, the CEO of Dallas-based Backpage.com, was arrested on charges filed by California Attorney General Kamala Harris that included pimping a minor. Backpage.com’s two controlling shareholders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit pimping.
Legal Momentum, the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, has been advocating on behalf of girls and women for nearly 50 years. Legal Momentum was instrumental in drafting and helping pass the Violence Against Women Act and other major legislation that protects girls and women. Sex trafficking is an extreme form of violence against children and women.
Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP is representing Legal Momentum pro bono as part of the firm’s civil rights practice.
About Legal Momentum
Legal Momentum is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1970 to advance the rights of women by using the power of the law and creating innovative public policy in three broad areas: economic justice, freedom from gender-based violence and equality under the law. For more information visit www.legalmomentum.org.