Website that advertised escorts sued in Wash., 3 other states

By Don Thompson

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — New lawsuits were filed Wednesday in four states on behalf of women who say they were victimized as teenagers when they were sold for sex on an international website.

The suits filed in Alabama, California, Texas and Washington are believed to be the first to individually name the operators of Backpage.com, Seattle attorney Jason Amala said in an email.

Chief executive officer Carl Ferrer and purported owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin are among those being sued, along with other affiliated individuals and holding companies. The complaints say the three men are liable because they knew they were profiting from illegal sex trafficking.

Backpage’s general counsel, Liz McDougall, declined to comment.

The men appeared in a California courtroom Tuesday to contest similar criminal charges that they say are barred by federal law and free speech protections.

Amala has a separate lawsuit against the company awaiting trial after it survived a legal challenge that reached the Washington state Supreme Court. But the U.S. Supreme Court this month left in place a different lower-court ruling that said Backpage’s ads are protected by federal law because the site is publishing advertisements created by clients.

The four new lawsuits are the first to be filed since Backpage shuttered its adult services section this month as a U.S. Senate subcommittee issued a report alleging that the site’s operators were actively editing ads, not merely publishing them.

The five women allege they were advertised on Backpage.com between 2013 and late 2015.

The two women who filed the Washington lawsuit say they were between 14 and 16 years old when they were sold for sex in the Seattle area.

The California suit is on behalf of a teenager who says she was 15 when she was advertised in Riverside County in August 2015.

The Texas suit was filed because that is where Backpage was headquartered at the time another teenager says she was trafficked in Hawaii in 2015.

The Alabama woman says she was 17 when her ads ran in Houston County, Alabama, in 2013.

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