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State's age-verification law should withstand challenge by Village Voice Media

Seattle, WA|Village Voice Pimps|Add Comment
By: Editorial, Seattle Times
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez

Washington state's new age-verification requirement for adult ads was narrowly tailored and should withstand judicial scrutiny.

VILLAGE Voice Media has a corporate interest in defending online sex ads. But the owner of Backpage.com should not succeed in scaring Internet businesses with erroneous charges about Washington state's new age-verification law.

Sleazy ads selling sex, sometimes with minors, have nothing to do with legitimate dating sites, blogs, chat rooms and social-networking sites.

Washington's tough new law requires that sellers of advertising verify the age of individuals depicted in ads for escorts. This is a necessary attempt to regulate commercial advertising that sells the sexual services of women, young girls and boys.

Backpage.com has been the nation's leading source of online sex-escort ads since Craigslist.org shuttered its adult-services section in September 2010.

The law says that classified advertising company representatives who publish or cause publication of sex-related ads peddling children are subject to criminal prosecution, unless they can provide proof of a good-faith attempt to verify the age of the advertised person.

The law was narrowly crafted to target Backpage's proliferation of sex ads and inadequate monitoring of the ads to ensure minors are not being exploited. State Attorney General Rob McKenna worked with lawmakers to ensure there were no conflicts with the 1996 federal Communications Decency Act, which grants broad protections to websites for speech made by third parties.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez last week temporarily blocked the law's enforcement. That unfortunate decision ought to be reversed at the next hearing scheduled for June 15. Village Voice will again argue that many Internet advertising companies face danger from Washington's law. But that argument is a legal contrivance designed to take the attention off the company the law was intended for: Village Voice.

The media conglomerate owns 13 alternative weekly newspapers around the country, including the Seattle Weekly. The corporation makes an estimated $22 million annually from its adult-services section, some of it from the sexual exploitation of women and minors advertised on Backpage.

Online advertisers who aren't in the heinous business of trafficking children have nothing to worry about. Backpage, on the other hand, has plenty to worry about.

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