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Originally published February 27, 2012 at 8:26 PM | Page modified February 27, 2012 at 9:35 PM

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State House OKs bill targeting sex ads with minors

The Washington state House has approved a bill to make online and print ads for sex with minors a Class C felony. The bill was previously approved in the state Senate.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In a 96-0 vote, the state House on Monday passed a bill to make publishing online and print ads for sex with juveniles a Class C felony. The law is intended to curtail ads depicting minors in the "escort" sections of sites such as backpage.com.

The House vote comes less than three weeks after the Senate unanimously passed the bill.

Advertising commercial sexual abuse of a minor can include explicit or implicit offers for paid sex with a minor, according to the bill.

Under state law, a pimp cannot use the defense that he didn't know a girl was under 18 when he prostituted her.

Similarly, a defendant charged with advertising commercial sex abuse of a minor couldn't use that defense unless he can prove a bona fide attempt to determine a minor's true age and produce a record of the identification used to verify the age of the person depicted in an ad.

"The Legislature finds that the practice of escort services advertising includes minors who are being sold for sex, a form of sex trafficking and commercial sexual abuse of minors," the bill reads.

In a Senate hearing in January, law-enforcement officials, clergy members and politicians, including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, condemned backpage.com, the online advertising site owned by Village Voice Media, which also owns Seattle Weekly and a dozen other weekly alternative papers across the country.

In Seattle alone, police investigated 57 prostitution cases that originated from ads on backpage.com between January 2010 and July, and of those, 21 involved girls younger than 18.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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