Former child prostitute sues Village Voice over sex ads in Backpage.com

In the wake of San Francisco based Craigslist removing their adult services category, a former teen prostitute identified only as M.A. in the complaint is suing Village Voice in U.S. District Court in Missouri for allowing her former pimp Latasha Jewell McFarland to post prostitution ads with pictures of her in Backpage.com.

In the wake of San Francisco based Craigslist removing their adult services category, a former teen prostitute identified only as M.A. in the complaint is suing Village Voice in U.S. District Court in Missouri for allowing her former pimp Latasha Jewell McFarland to post prostitution ads with pictures of her in Backpage.com. Latasha Jewell McFarland has already pleaded guilty to Federal prostitution charges. The teen who is now 15 claims Village Voice knew the photos taken when she was 14 and posted on Backpage were illegal but “failed to investigate for fear of what it would learn”.

According to the complaint (pdf)

In 2009 and 2010, the plaintiff M.A., a minor, while being a fourteen year old runaway child, was being sexually trafficked as a paid escort for sex by Latasha Jewell McFarland, an adult. who has plead guilty to criminal activities relating to the allegations herein  and has admitted to the following facts in open court which are stated as facts hereinafter photographing minor M.A. in pomographic poises: posting this child pornography on defendanfs website, backpage.com in advertisements seeking sex from paying customers: paying backpage.com for these postings: transporting minor M.A. for the purpose of sexual liaisons for money with adult male customers obtained through defendant`s website; collecting money for minor M.A.`s sexual services from these customers: and purchasing goods to facilitate these sexual services.

The complaint further alleges that Village Voice

had knowledge that: explicit sexual photographs were being posted on its website; that postings on their website were advertisements for prostitution services: that minors were included in these postings for prostitution on its website: that sex trafficking of minors was prolific in the United States of America; that the internet including their service was used for advertisements for illegal sexual conduct, including child exploitation.

In anticipation of a Section 230 defense, the complain further alleges that

Pursuant to 47 U.S.C. Section 230. no immunity attaches in favor of Defendant as Defendant has aided and abetted crimes against a child under 18 U.S.C. Sections 2251, 2252, 2252A, 2421, 2422, 2423, relating to maintaining and operating backpage.com which is a facilitator of child pornography and facilitator of child prostitution.

The lawsuit is for $150,000 plus attorney’s fees.

At various points, Craigslist has claimed they do more than any other similar sites to monitor and remove illegal prostitution ads. They further state in their blog that their efforts to screen erotic services ads had resulted in users simply shifting their ads to other services which do no screening including backpage.com.