This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
If this were a better world, backpage.com and other websites that abet child prostitution would shrivel up and blow off into cyberspace.
But we’re stuck with the world we’ve got, so it’s going to take serious action to persuade Village Voice Media – which owns backpage.com – to get out of the pimping business.
The Legislature is moving to create a new felony, “advertising commercial sexual abuse of a minor.” Classified ad companies would be required to verify the age of any females whose services they help sell; evidence of a serious, good-faith attempt would protect them legally.
Any legislation affecting publication must be handled carefully, to avoid violating the First Amendment and endangering legitimate Web enterprises that may be covertly exploited by criminals.
Still, there’s no constitutional right to publish invitations to commit crime, even ads for legal tobacco products are subject to heavy restrictions. Large sections of backpage.com feature such come-ons as “can I be your girl for a 60$ incall 80$ outcall specials.” Lest anyone need reminding, prostitution of any kind is a crime in Washington.
Village Voice Media knows exactly what business it’s in. Ideally, it would do what dozens of states have asked it to do: start policing backpage.com itself. But it hasn’t.
It requires no confirmation that the women being sold on its pages are actually adults.
Far too often, they turn out to be girls, many of them virtual slaves to pimps and human traffickers. Far too often, girls and women alike become prey to criminals who find them on backpage.com.
A brutal – and typical – example is the case of Julian Tarver, a serial rapist who was sentenced to 14½ years earlier this month in King County. He trolled backpage.com for victims; when prostitutes arrived at his apartment, he’d impersonate a police officer, handcuff them and force himself upon them.
Two of the females he raped were 15-year-old girls – both advertised on backpage.com.
Similar crimes are repeated many, many times across the country. And worse. Women pimped on the website also go missing or turn up dead.
A larger issue here is human trafficking. This is an immense worldwide industry with an underground presence in the Puget Sound region. It often involves girls and women entrapped by criminals, who rip them away from their homes and homelands, then force them to endure endless rapes.
Pimp-driven prostitution amounts to the same kind of slavery on a smaller scale. The prostitutes tend to be emotionally damaged, captured young and systematically degraded.
It’s the filthiest business imaginable. Shame on Village Voice Media for profiting off it.