Five teenage girls who say they were sold for sex on the advertising website Backpage.com have sued the site and its embattled executives in California and three other states. The allege that the team behind the website created an online marketplace for sex trafficking, reports the Sacramento Bee. The girls, ranging in age from 14 to 16 at the time of the alleged sex-for-sale transactions, filed suits in Riverside, Ca., Tacoma, Wa., Dallas, and Alabama. The girls allege that they were advertised on Backpage.com between 2013 and 2015, and that Backpage.com helped traffickers avoid the law by doctoring ads used to sell sex.
The lawsuits were prompted by a legislative report released this month alleging Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and partners, former Village Voice and Phoenix New Times owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin, knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking including child sex trafficking, said Seattle attorney Jason Amala, who represents the two Washington state girls. The civil filings are the latest in a growing list of legal troubles for Ferrer, Lacey, and Larkin, who face arraignment Feb. 9 in Sacramento Superior Court on 39 criminal counts brought by state attorney general’s prosecutors of money laundering, pimping, pandering and conspiracy connected to alleged sex trafficking and child sex trafficking on the site. Attorneys for Backpage called the new charges “utter nonsense.” The attorneys argue that Backpage and its team are third-party content providers immune from prosecution because they did not produce the ads soliciting sex online.