Dallas-based Backpage.com, a classifieds website, has been hit with a $1 million lawsuit for allegedly pimping out a teenage girl.
Attorney Marc Lenahan represents an unidentified teen in a lawsuit filed Wednesday. The girl was about 15-years-old when, according to the lawsuit, she was lured into prostitution.
Her alleged pimp took illicit photos and posted sex ads on Backpage. Lenahan says the website allowed the ads, knowing it solicited sex with a minor.
“They designed systems to look for words Lolita, young girl, school age girl and instead of flagging those ads and banning the people who were trying to post them they would go through and automatically delete the words so they knew they were still posting,” Lenahan said.
Her attorney says she's one of many victims and wants to see the website shut down for good. The suit comes two weeks after Backpage execs refused to testify before a senate subcommittee about its practices.
According to the lawsuit and senate report, Backpage doesn't deny criminal activity is going on. The company claims it merely hosts content -- eliminating liability.
The senate report says 73 percent of all child trafficking reports received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children involve Backpage.
So far, execs have avoided criminal prosecution -- and even refused to testify before the senate subcommittee to avoid self-incrimination.
But Lenahan and others say it is responsible, accusing the website of sanitizing explicit ads -- like one from poster Urban Pimp. According to the lawsuit, the company's CEO Carl Ferrer of Frisco admitted to editing the post "to avoid detection by law enforcement."
In October, Ferrer and two Backpage controlling officers -- Michael Lacey and James Larkin were arrested in Houston on pimping-related charges. But in early December a California judge threw out the charges -- finding that the communications decency act grants immunity to website operators for posted content.
Two weeks ago, Backpage removed the adult section from the website -- citing censorship. Lenahan worries the alleged trafficking hasn't stopped, but hopes the lawsuit moves his client and the website a step closer to closing.