Attorney General Fox Joins Brief to U.S. Supreme Court in Support of Human Trafficking Victims
Attorney General Tim Fox announced Montana has joined 20 other states in filing an amicus brief in support of three young human trafficking victims who filed suit against Backpage.com, a website that is known for hosting advertisements for prostitution, including advertisements involving minors who are victims of sex trafficking.
The case centers on whether a website owner/operator may be civilly sued for designing its website to facilitate sex trafficking by third parties. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled in March of this year that the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) precludes such lawsuits. The brief, Doe, et al. v. Backpage.com, LLC, et al., urges the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and reverse the First Circuit’s decision. The victims contend the CDA does not shield Backpage from liability for deliberately making tools available on its website that facilitate sex trafficking.
“When the First Circuit interpreted federal law this spring to shield Backpage from liability for designing its website to facilitate sex trafficking, it resulted in states being extremely handicapped in how we prosecute websites that are complicit in sex trafficking,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “The internet is the primary method of advertising the availability of children for sex; operators of these websites should not be immune from liability for the serious harm inflicted upon the children they actively exploit.”
Fighting human trafficking and providing victims with services to rebuild their lives has been a priority for Attorney General Fox. In the 2013 legislative session, his office supported HB 478 (Rep. Sarah Laszloffy), which criminalized the transport of persons across state lines for the purposes of commercial sexual activity and established the crime of subjecting a child to sexual servitude. The Attorney General’s Office also supported HB 488 (Rep. Jenifer Gursky), which required the Montana Department of Justice to create a poster with the contact information for the National Trafficking Resource Center and place it in interstate and highway rest areas.
In 2014, Montana joined other states and territories in asking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to support the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act (SAVE) Act (S. 2536) to provide more oversight of websites like Backpage.com. Their letter is available to read or download here.
During the 2015 legislative session, HB 89 was drafted by the Attorney General’s Office and sponsored by Rep. Kim Dudik. This legislation, which became law last summer, updated Montana’s human trafficking laws to reflect the model state human trafficking act and gave state statutes the clear definitions and penalties needed to protect children and help sex trafficking victims on the road to recovery. As a result of this legislation, a national non-profit ranked Montana last fall as one of the top three states in America for its efforts to prevent child sex trafficking.
The states filing the friend of the court brief are Montana, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. A copy of the brief is available to read or download here.