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Washington is first state to take on escort sites

From the New York Times:

SEATTLE — For more than three months, she was sold online for sex. She had run away at 15, gone back home, then run away again. Finally, an undercover police officer caught her, and her pimp. This time she went home and stayed, but she was not the same.

“She was a different child after that,” her father said. “It was like she was programmed. She spoke different. She looked different. They cut her hair, they dyed her hair, they bought her new clothes.”

Now 17, the girl is in counseling and in college, “on her way,” her father said.

She is also evidence. When one of the men who raped her was sentenced in February, one of the exhibits that prosecutors used was an advertisement selling her services as an escort on backpage.com. The ad said she was 18.

That same month, the Washington Legislature was debating a bill that would require sites within the state to obtain documentation that escorts advertised there are at least 18. On Thursday, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed that bill into law, the first of its kind in the country.

“It’s a start, and it’s a precedent,” the girl’s father said, “and it will make a difference.”

The Washington law was praised last week by groups working to stop child sex trafficking. Other states, including Connecticut, are considering similar legislation. Yet even some supporters of the law question how effective it will be — paperwork can be easy to fake, after all. And will shutting down one Web site simply prompt another to open? Some also wonder how it will fare against potential legal challenges that it limits free speech.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Andrea Powell, the executive director of FAIR Girls, which seeks out and helps girls who have been sexually exploited. “But I don’t think it’s going to be the solution they’re looking for. It might reduce the volume of ads, but the ultimate goal is to shut that section down. There’s no way with an escort section that pimps aren’t going to post there. They’re not going to just stop posting on backpage…”

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