A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a teenage runaway against the newspaper and online classified ad website that she accused of running ads containing child porn and facilitating her entry into the world of prostitution.
The girl, identified only by initials, sued Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC and Backpage.com, LLC in federal court her last year, accusing the companies of aiding in child prostitution by allowing her “pimp” to advertise the then-14-year-old there.
The suit claims Backpage.com knew that nude photos were being posted on the site in ads for prostitution services, including the prostitution of minors, or didn’t investigate their suspicions about criminal activity “for fear of what it would learn.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Mummert dismissed the lawsuit Monday, ruling that although the teen endured “horrific victimization” at the hands of her pimp, the companies were protected by the Communications Decency Act from liability for what others post there. Citing other court cases that examined similar issues, Mummert said that, “Plaintiff artfully and eloquently attempts to phrase her allegations to avoid the reach of (the communications decency act). Those allegations, however, do not distinguish the complained-of actions of Backpage from any other website that posted content that led to an innocent person’s injury. Congress has declared such websites to be immune from suits arising from such injuries. It is for Congress to change the policy that gave rise to such immunity.”
In December, the girl’s pimp, Latasha Jewell McFarland, 27, of St. Louis County, was sentenced to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty of interstate commerce to promote prostitution and admitting that she persuaded the girl to go into prostitution in 2009. McFarland posted nude pictures of the teen online, bought condoms, arranged the meetings and drove the teen to hotels along Interstate 270, prosecutors have said.
Lawyers representing the teen and the companies could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.