State lawmaker drafts bill aimed at escort service websites

Jeanne Kohl-Welles

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, is crafting a bill that would keep minors from being exploited through escort services on sites such as backpage.com by making the websites check identification of its users in person.

The website runs escort ads as part of Village Voice, which owns the Seattle Weekly newspaper. Police in Seattle and Tacoma say there are a lot of adults who are using backpage.com in the sex trafficking of young people.

Right now, when users log onto the escort section of backpage.com, it asks them to do no more then check a box saying they’re an adult.

“It's much easier and much safer for the perpetrators, those buying and those selling, to use the Internet to traffic young people this way,” said Melinda Giovengo of YouthCare, an organization that rescues kids from the streets. Giovengo said that in the past year her organization has helped more than 20 young people who were bought and sold on backpage.com.

She added, “We are behind any legislation that would help us recover and rescue these young people.”

Fifty-one attorneys general have condemned the website. Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna has asked the state to do something about it.

Kohl-Welles said she hopes to introduce her new legislation during the budget-cutting special session that ends this month.

Representatives of Village Voice didn’t respond to interview requests, but in the past, administrators of the site have said verifying the ages of those using backpage.com would be virtually impossible.

 

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