NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The mother of a murdered U.S. teenager filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Backpage.com, claiming her daughter was killed because she had been sold for sex on the huge classified advertising website.
Backpage has been hit by lawsuits saying it promotes trafficking in its ads, offering children for commercial sex, but this is believed to be the first case in the nation linking Backpage to trafficking and a specific murder.
Each year, some 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States, according to the Department of Justice.
The mother, Yvonne Ambrose, filed the civil lawsuit against Backpage in an Illinois state court after her daughter Desiree Robinson was murdered last year in a Chicago suburb.
Robinson had been repeatedly advertised for sex on Backpage, the lawsuit said. The teen had been missing for several weeks when she was found dead on Christmas Eve.
Antonio Rosales, 32, is charged with Robinson’s murder and has pleaded not guilty.
The teen had been with Rosales the night she died, said Ambrose’s attorney, Gina Arquilla DeBoni.
The lawsuit, which seeks minimum monetary damages of $50,000, claims Backpage knew it was facilitating sex trafficking, DeBoni said.
The second-largest U.S. online classified ad service after Craigslist, Backpage has faced scrutiny from the U.S. Senate over allegations that it facilitates sex trafficking, especially of children.
A Senate report early this year found that Backpage removed words that indicated a person being advertised was a child, such as “little girl” and “amber alert” and would post sanitized ads.
The company has repeatedly triumphed in court by arguing it is hosting content, not creating it, and is protected from liability by a federal law that protects free speech, the federal Communications Decency Act.
DeBoni said this is believed to be the first case linking Backpage to sex trafficking and a murder.
“It highlights just how dangerous Backpage’s actions are,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Backpage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Backpage earlier this year shut its “adult” section, decrying what it called “government censorship.”
However, the ads have since migrated to a different section of Backpage, experts say.
Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org