Judge throws out suit over sex ads

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal judge in St. Louis has thrown out a lawsuit accusing Village Voice Media of knowingly allowing a pimp to advertise a teenage prostitute’s sexual services on one of its websites.

The suit filed last year on behalf of the teen sought at least $150,000 in damages. It claimed that Backpage.com, a website similar to Craigslist, knew prostitution was being facilitated on the site but did nothing to stop it.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Mummert dismissed the suit Monday. The allegations “do not distinguish the complained-of actions of Backpage from any other website that posted content that led to an innocent person’s injury,” Mummert wrote. “Congress has declared such websites to be immune from suits arising from such injuries. It is for Congress to change the policy that gave rise to such immunity.”

Those comments were in reference to the Communication Decency Act.

The girl’s attorney, Bob Pedroli Jr., was critical of the act and said he would appeal.

“We plan to continue our fight in the courts and we ask everyone who cares about sexual trafficking of children on the Internet to write to their senators and congressional representatives and tell them to change this law now,” Pedroli said.

Phone messages left with an attorney for Village Voice Media were not returned.

The lawsuit did not list the name of the girl who said she became a prostitute at age 14. The girl’s pimp, Latasha Jewell McFarland, 28, of St. Louis, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2010 to federal prostitution charges.

Prosecutors in the criminal case said the girl ran away from home and met McFarland in 2009. They said McFarland persuaded her to work as a prostitute by telling her she could earn $100 for each sex act, and that McFarland took half the proceeds.

McFarland admitted she posted nude photos of the girl online, bought condoms, arranged meetings and drove the teen to hotels. Prosecutors said she also encouraged the teen to go to parties where men would pay for sex with multiple women.

In her lawsuit, the girl contended that items advertising sex with her were posted on Backpage.com.

Pedroli said websites like Backpage.com provide a “safe house” for pimps and customers to arrange child prostitution.

In September 2010, attorneys general in 21 states sent a joint letter to Backpage.com, asking the site to drop its adult services section and to develop better safeguards to prevent illegal prostitution and child trafficking ads from migrating to the site’s other sections.

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