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Originally published January 18, 2012 at 3:02 PM | Page modified February 6, 2012 at 11:48 AM

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More law-enforcement firepower to combat sex trafficking

A dozen smart bipartisan proposals in the Washington state Senate hammer sexual exploiters and human traffickers hard.

Seattle Times Editorial

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OK, this is the world of the internet. What are they going to do if the operation is... MORE
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MORE authority for law enforcement to combat sex trafficking is promised in a bipartisan package of anti-trafficking bills in the Washington state Senate.

A bipartisan team of influential senators, who are backing a dozen bills, lend legislative firepower and a united political front on a critical issue.

One of the key pieces of legislation, introduced by Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, would create a new offense, making it illegal to knowingly sell an escort ad that involves a minor. Classified-advertising companies would be required to try to verify ages of escorts in sex-related postings.

Prohibiting such ads would violate constitutionally protected free-speech rights. Senate Bill 6251 would not dictate the content of the ads, but it would appeal to the self-interest of online advertisers. It would provide a defense to online advertisers in child-exploitation cases linked to their sites if they could prove they tried to verify a victim's age.

It has a chance of withstanding legal scrutiny. Kohl-Welles sought advice from Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Attorney General Rob McKenna.

Village Voice Media, which owns backpage.com, opposes the bill. Of course. The media conglomerate has ignored the entreaties of more than 40 state attorneys general and other law-enforcement officials to shut down the escorts section on its subsidiary, backpage.com.

Backpage.com and Village Voice ought to agree to age verifications. No one can argue there is not a need for doing so. Seattle police have so far linked 22 cases of child prostitution to girls advertised as escorts on backpage.com.

Other anti-trafficking bills would toughen commercial sex-abuse and prostitution laws, beef up seizure and property forfeiture rules in such cases and permit the state to inspect foot-massage parlors suspected as fronts for prostitution. A bill would add protections for people with mental disabilities forced into prostitution.

Washington state was the first in the nation to pass anti-trafficking legislation. Steady pressure has quelled some of the trafficking activity. The Senate bills offer the latest pressure. Tough laws can have an impact.

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