Inslee OKs new penalties for online minor sex ads

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OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into a law a measure imposing a $5,000 fine for those using online ads to help sell the sexual services of a minor.

The new law, signed by the governor on Wednesday, is meant to target pimps who use websites like Backpage.com to advertise minors for sex. The penalty is in addition to those already in place for sexually trafficking minors.

Last year, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law a measure penalizing websites on which sex ads featuring minors appeared if they failed to make a reasonable effort to verify the minors’ age. That law appeared to conflict with existing federal laws, however, and the state Attorney General’s Office agreed in December to not enforce it.

The Washington law would’ve allow for the criminal prosecution of anyone who knowingly publishes or causes the publication of sex-related ads depicting children, unless they can show they made a good-faith effort to confirm that the person advertised was not a juvenile.

Backpage and Internet Archive, a nonprofit that runs a popular archive of Internet sites, argued the new law violated the Communications Decency Act of 1996, as well as the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments and the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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