We Urge U.S. Supreme Court to Consider an Important Online Child Sex Trafficking Case

November 2016

Legal Momentum and the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner filed a “friend of the court” brief urging the United States Supreme Court to take up the case of Jane Doe et al. v. Backpage.com et al. The plaintiffs are several women of color who were advertised for sex on Backpage.com in Massachusetts and Rhode Island when they were minors—beginning at age 15—and were raped hundreds of times as a result. Backpage is a classified advertising site that dominates the world market for commercial sex ads—posting one million sex ads per day, according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. It rakes in an estimated $9 million in profits every month from that business.

Unfortunately, the district court dismissed the women’s case last spring. The women appealed, but the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal. The appeals court interpreted a 1996 law, the Communications Decency Act (CDA), as protecting Backpage.com from being sued. Legal Momentum believes that this is a serious misinterpretation of the CDA, which Congress clearly intended to protect children from exposure to harmful materials online. Using the CDA to shield a site that operates as an “online marketplace for pedophiles” is a perversion of Congress’s original intent to protect children, says Carol Robles-Román, Legal Momentum’s President and CEO.

In March 2016, Backpage.com was held in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a Senate investigation into its facilitation of online child sex trafficking. In October, Backpage.com’s CEO, Carl Ferrer, was arrested in Texas on charges of pimping a minor that were filed by California Attorney General Kamala Harris. The company’s co-founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were also arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit pimping.

Legal Momentum strongly encourages its supporters to join in the fight against online commercial sexual exploitation to help call attention to this case on social media using the hashtag #CDAnot4traffickers.

Several anti-trafficking activists and organizations also signed on to the Legal Momentum amicus brief, including: Cindy McCain, Florida Abolitionist, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS), Rising International, the YWCA of Silicon Valley, Sojourner Center, StolenYouth, and StreetLightUSA.