The committee waded through a package of bills intended to curb underage sex trafficking in Washington, but the legislation proposed by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles—which would force sites like Backpage.com to check IDs in person for all escort ads—was the hot topic today at the committee meeting.
Both Mayor Mike McGinn and City Council member Tim Burgess (who have been at the forefront of the issue in Seattle) testified today. Burgess also released a report on three-and-a-half years of King County prosecution data, which found that 67 people "victimized more than 78 girls and women in King County." Two thirds of those victims were juveniles, with a "sizable number" of them between 13 and 15 years old, according to Burgess.
McGinn and Burgess were joined by Assistant Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel, Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton, King County prosecutors, religious leaders, SeaTac Police Department officers and representatives from the King County Sheriff's office and staffers from social service agencies all showed up to voice support for the Kohl-Welles bill.[pullquote]"I don't know that we can ever end sin, but we can certainly try."—Sen. Adam Kline[/pullquote]
The biggest question looming over the legislative crackdown on escort ads is whether it would stand up to what Kline, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, called "inevitable litigation." Legal issues involving protections for media advertising complicate the otherwise seemingly black and white issue of fighting child exploitation online.
Backpage's parent company, Village Voice Media, has defended the site—which has been linked to the sexual exploitation of children—defending its escort ads as a First Amendment issue. (They make $20 million annually off the site.)
The mother of a young woman who was pimped out on Backpage.com offered a rejoinder to concerns about suppression of free speech at today's hearing: "Whose voice are we protecting? Are we protecting the abuser? Are we protecting the buyer? Are we protecting the website that makes millions?" She added "I have a daughter that was convicted on prostitution charges at the age of 15. My entire family has been victimized."
Kline closed today's meeting saying "I don't know that we can ever end sin, but we can certainly try."