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Three Teens Sue over Sex Trafficking

Filephoto. Comstock/Thinkstock(TACOMA, Wash.) -- Three Washington teenagers have filed a personal injury lawsuit against the classified ad website, alleging that the site allowed them to be forced into prostitution for the company's own financial gain.

The three unnamed girls, now aged 15 through 17, filed the suit in Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Wash. In the suit they allege that through the adult listings in the company allowed them to be raped -- and that it profited as a result, making millions of dollars each month.

"Our kids were hurt by Backpage, so we're going after Backpage," Erik L. Bauer, an attorney representing the three girls, told ABC News.

Images of the underage girls were posted to, which is owned by Village Voice Media, beginning in 2010. The site is a frequent online destination for escort services. The ads were posted by three men who pimped the girls out and kept all of the profits for themselves, the lawsuit claims.

The complaint states that did nothing to prevent these men from exploiting the underage girls, and claims that the site, "knowingly developed a nationwide online marketplace for illicit commercial sex" and, "developed a reputation for itself as a website where pimps and prostitutes advertise commercial sex."

The suit says there is little to prevent anyone from posting ads offering prostitution on, other than a "posting rules" screen that asks users to certify, "I will not post any solicitation directly or in 'coded' fashion for any illegal service, including exchanging sexual favors for money or other valuable consideration." The site also asks users to verify they are 18 years old, and says that posting by a minor will be subject to criminal prosecution.

In Tacoma, the site charges $10 per ad for a posting to escort services, and allows eight pictures to be included. The site also offers a feature to repost escort ads automatically, for an additional fee.

The lawsuit against says the site's rules are hardly a deterrent to those promoting prostitution. The pimp who took advantage of the three girls, the suit says, was legally an adult. The three girls are identified in the complaint only as S.L, L.C. and J.S.

"Other than requiring the poster of the ad to agree to this term by 'clicking' on the posting rules page, does nothing to verify the age of the escorts who appear in its prostitution ads, even though it knows that pimps are usually the ones who create the ads, or force their minor sex slaves to do so," the complaint says.

Baruti Hopson, 33, was the pimp who exploited the three girls via, the girls' lawyer told ABC News. Hopson was convicted in 2011 on multiple counts of child rape and promoting the sexual abuse of a minor.

Seattle attorney Liz McDougall, who represents, said the lawsuit will not pass legal muster and is barred by federal law. She also said that employs a triple-tier prevention system and has a "robust system" to aid law enforcement when the company receives a subpoena -- which she told ABC News can happen five times per day.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a decision Friday in favor of's right to continue its business without stricter age verification.

Last week Backpage asked a Washington judge to issue an injunction against a state law that would require classified ad companies to verify the ages of people in sex-related advertisements.

Attorneys for argued that the law will force sex trafficking further underground, where it will be far more difficult to police, and said that the law infringes on free speech.

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez granted the injunction. Bauer, the attorney for the three girls, responded that it was "ridiculous" to call this an issue of freedom of speech.

"How about, basic freedom for kids? How about freedom to live life happy and joyous? Freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are constitutional rights. And children have them. These freedoms are more import than corporate freedom-of-speech rights," he said in an interview with ABC News.

Bauer also argued that the nature of Backpage's listings create a "volume business." He said the girls were sent to clients for sex up to 20 times per day. He said he doesn't believe that the company's "triple-tier prevention system" makes a difference.

McDougall said that closing down will not prevent the exploitation of children. She said the solution lies in stopping the demand.

"What I find frustrating with this lawsuit is that we finally have a focus on child trafficking in the U.S., and we've ignored that, until five or six years ago," she said. "[Now] all of the attention is being focused on Backpage. If you shut down Backpage, it's not going to solve the problem.

"The endgame is that the same activity will continue to occur, but it will just move into the deeper part of the web -- or offshore," she said. "When it goes offshore, they're not in the jurisdiction of law enforcement. There's nothing we can do."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Backpage Sues Over Wash. Sex-Trafficking Law

Comstock/Thinkstock(OLYMPIA, Wash.) --, the online classifieds website that has become a target for activists because of its sex ads, is seeking to invalidate a law recently passed in Washington state that would require proof of age for those posting the ads.

The law is an attempt to reduce child sex trafficking online, a problem acknowledges and says it is working to stop.

The law, which is set to take effect Tuesday, would impose a $10,000 fine and up to a year in prison if a website does not make a reasonable attempt to ascertain the age of someone placing an ad for commercial sex.

“Although its ostensible motivation -- to prevent the sex trafficking of children -- is laudable, the law is not,” said Liz McDougall, the attorney for Backpage, which is owned by Village Voice Media.

Backpage’s legal filing argues that the Washington bill contradicts a federal law, the Communications Decency Act, which Congress passed in 1996. The Act says that Internet service providers or “interactive computer services,” like Backpage, are merely hosts and not publishers in the traditional sense. That means that the websites cannot be held liable for material posted on them by a third party -- which is why while the act of prostitution may be illegal, Backpage is not responsible for someone posting an ad for it on their site.

Washington’s Attorney General Rob McKenna said some in Congress are exploring how the Communications Decency Act might be changed to protect victims of child sex trafficking.

“A group of bipartisan U.S. senators have taken on this issue in a bold way in the last couple of months,” he told Nightline in April. “So we intend to be working with them to make sure there’s no federal law that acts as a shield behind which Backpage and other Internet publishers can hide.”

In the meantime, other states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering legislation similar to the Washington law.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Man Charged in Murders

Medioimages/Photodisc/ThinkStock(DETROIT, Mich.) -- A man has been charged in connection to the murders of four women who were found in the trunks of burning cars last December in Detroit.

James Brown, 24, of Sterling Heights, Mich., will be charged with Dead Bodies-Disinterment in connection with two of the murders, and with the arson of a dead body in connection with the other two murders.  As of now, Brown is not being charged with murder.

Brown is being held on a $500,000 cash bond for each of the two cases, according to the Detroit Free Press.  He is scheduled to appear in court again on May 17.

“We just want justice. We want closure. We have waited 4 months,” said Chikita Madison, mother of one of the victims, according to ABC News affiliate WXYZ.

Three of the victims had offered escort services on, a nationwide site similar to Craigslist, according to police.

On Dec. 19, two women – one 23 and one 24 — were found dead in the trunk of a 2009 Chrysler 300 that was parked in the driveway of a vacant dwelling, police said.  There were no outer signs of trauma to the bodies.  The victims were identified as Demesha Hunt, 24, and Renisha Landers, 23, who were cousins.

Their mothers insisted the cousins weren’t escorts, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“These were good girls. They were not on the streets. They had homes,” said Landers’ mother Chikita Madison in December.

“That was nothing that they were into,” Hunt’s mother, Denise Reid told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s nothing that I would even say, ‘Oh, yeah. Maybe.’ It’s absolutely not.”

Two other women, 28 and 29 years old, were found four blocks away in a 1997 Buick LaSabre on Christmas morning around 1 a.m. The Detroit Fire Department responded to a vehicle fire, and after extinguishing the fire, found the bodies in the trunk, badly burned.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Detroit Cops Issue Warning After Dead Women Linked to Website

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DETROIT) -- Detroit police warned women on Tuesday against setting up meetings with strangers over the Internet, after three of four murdered women found in the trunks of burning cars have been linked to a nationwide site similar to Craigslist, according to police.

“We felt it’s imperative to alert the public that deciding to meet unknown persons via the Internet can be extremely dangerous,” Detroit police chief Ralph Godbee said. “We implore people to be careful, let someone know where they’re going, who they’re with.  If you’re arranging something, do it in a public place. With the vast increase on utilization of social media on the Internet we must continue to be vigilant in identifying any website which may potentially pose a threat to individuals,” said Godbee.

The three victims had offered escort services on, according to police. The site is an Internet bulletin board with listings for everything from child care to auto parts and forums on numerous topics.

The website said on Tuesday it was cooperating with police and had given investigators information about “ads that the suspect or others posted on numerous web sites,” according to a statement from legal counsel Steve Suskin, posted by the Detroit Free Press.

Suskin said there were ads on 15 websites not connected to

“ shares the concerns of law enforcement and the community that every effort be made to stop violent criminals from using the Internet to commit their crimes,” the statement said.

On Dec. 19, a 23 and 24-year-old were found dead in the trunk of a 2009 Chrysler 300 that was parked in the driveway of a vacant dwelling, police said.

A 28 and 29-year-old women were found four blocks away in a 1997 Buick LaSabre on Christmas morning around 1 a.m.  The Detroit Fire Department responded to a vehicle fire, and after extinguishing the fire, found the bodies in the trunk, badly burned.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Murdered Women in Detroit Linked to, Cops Say

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DETROIT) -- Three of four women whose dead bodies were found in the trunks of burning cars in Detroit over the past eight days had profiles on the adult services section of, police said on Monday, warning women that the killer may be trolling the site for more victims.

The bodies of two women were found in a burning car on Dec. 19, and then another pair were found on Christmas, police said.  They were both found within blocks of one another on the city’s east side.

Detroit police chief Ralph Godbee Jr. stopped short of saying the crimes were the work of a serial killer, but said he felt it was important to get the word out about the link investigators had found.

“This tie for us is disconcerting,” Godbee Jr. said Monday at a news conference.  “We’re stopping short of calling it a serial pattern."

“We are not passing judgment on any individual who is utilizing this website, yet we felt it was imperative to alert the public that deciding to meet unknown persons via the Internet can be extremely dangerous,” he said.

Investigators have not determined a cause of death for the four women., like, is an Internet bulletin board with listings for everything from child care to auto parts and forums on numerous topics. took down its “adult services” section after several widely publicized cases, including the so-called “Craigslist Killer” case, in which Phillip Markoff was charged with the armed robbery and murder of a masseuse he had hired through the website, and the armed robbery of two other women he also found through the site.  Markoff committed suicide in jail awaiting trial.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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