OLYMPIA — Today, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan anti-trafficking bill to keep minors from being exploited through online ads for escort services such as Backpage.com. Having already passed the Senate, the bill now goes to the governor for her signature.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D—Seattle, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 6251, said, “I am ecstatic the anti-trafficking legislation passed with unanimous support today out of the House of Representatives. This makes the strongest possible statement that there should be no selling of minors online – or anywhere! I worked with the Attorney General’s Office, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Seattle Councilmember Tim Burgess, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, Port of Seattle Commission President Gael Tarleton, former Rep. Velma Veloria, the ACLU, Allied Daily Newspapers and others to ensure this bill passes constitutional muster as well as the federal Communications Decency Act. If the bill is signed into law, it will be the first one of its kind in the country.”
“Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry that often takes advantage of the most vulnerable members of our society – our children, and even those with developmental disabilities,” said Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, who sponsored another bill to make it a class B felony to force a developmentally-disabled person into prostitution. “We’ve accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We must do everything in our power to raise awareness of these crimes, give our judicial system more authority to punish the perpetrators, and provide help for the victims.”
Backpage.com, whose parent company is The Village Voice, makes at least $22 million a year from online adult escort ads, but refuses to verify the ages of those who place the ads or are depicted in them, even though its print edition published in the Seattle Weekly requires in person age verification. This results in minors being sold online into prostitution and sex-trafficking. All state attorneys general called on Backpage.com to stop selling online adult escort ads.
Kohl-Welles’ bill would create a new offense, making it illegal to knowingly sell an escort ad that involves a minor. To avoid possible criminal charges, classified advertising companies would be motivated to try to verify ages of escorts in sex-related postings. The bill offers an affirmative defense in prosecution of advertising commercial sexual abuse of a minor if documentation is provided of the advertisers having obtained in-person age verification.
“This is great progress in our fight to protect children from those who would sexually exploit them,” said McGinn. “It is an honor to work with those who have championed this cause. I thank the House and the Senate for their leadership in this fight, particularly Sen. Kohl-Welles. I look forward to the governor's signature and this bill becoming law in our state.”
“Washington was the first state to criminalize human trafficking and today our Legislature took another giant step by making advertisers accountable for their role in the exploitation of children,” said Burgess. “The unanimous bipartisan support for this legislation signals that we are united in our efforts to stop the horrific violence against children through coercive prostitution.”
“This legislation recognizes that the sale of children for commercial sexual abuse either online or in print is unacceptable. The Legislature has once again moved the ball forward in the fight against human trafficking,” said Satterberg.
“This is another step forward in our fight to protect the most vulnerable citizens,” said Tarleton. “When we work together, we have the power to stop trafficking.”
“This is great news! With the first amendment rights concerns addressed, this bill will be a great tool for those of us in the anti-trafficking arena to help women and girls who are victims of human trafficking,” said Veloria, who pioneered the Legislature’s anti-trafficking efforts back in 2002.
# # #
For more information:
Alison Dempsey-Hall, Senate Democratic Communications, 360-786-7887