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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Backpage Case

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

The fate of a human trafficking lawsuit against is now in the hands of the Washington Supreme Court.

The justices heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that involves three underage victims of sex trafficking. The lawsuit alleges the Washington girls were pimped-out through ads posted to

Erik Bauer is a lawyer for the victims. He argued Backpage has created a sex marketplace where human trafficking can flourish.

“It’s a systemic, corporate effort to make a lot of money by marketing the nation’s children including the children of the state of Washington,” Bauer said.

Jim Grant is lawyer for Village Voice Media, the owner of Backpage. He told the justices that Backpage is a content platform, not a content provider and is immune from liability under federal law.

“The alternative to immunity in this case would be to chill online speech, chill speech of the Internet,” Grant said.

The federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 does provide immunity to online service providers for content posted by third parties. This week, the attorneys’ general of Washington, Oregon and Idaho signed onto a letter that urges Congress to crack down on websites like Backpage.

The court will decide if the lawsuit can proceed.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."