Facebook Hit By Sex Trafficking Lawsuit, Backpage Also Named

Facebook should be held responsible when a user on the social media platform sexually exploits another Facebook user, according to a new lawsuit by an unnamed woman in Houston, Texas, who says in a lawsuit filed on Monday that she blames the Menlo Park, California-based company’s “morally bankrupt corporate culture” for permitting a sex trafficker to force her into prostitution after beating and raping her, according to a report by The Houston Chronicle.

The lawsuit also names Backpage.com, which according to a Reuters report, hosted pictures of the woman taken by the man who victimized her after he uploaded them to the site.

The classified advertising site Backpage was shuttered by federal prosecutors in April of this year. The site’s founders and several other top executives were hit with a 93-count indictment, on charges of facilitating prostitution and laundering millions from their business.

Whether Backpage can be held liable for crimes inflicted by others on victims remains unclear. The recently passed federal law known as FOSTA—the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act”—makes sites liable for illegal activities committed by others who use those sites

But whether the Houston lawsuit cites the FOSTA legislation as its basis was unclear. According to the Chronicle report, the suit accuses Facebook of providing “an unrestricted platform” for criminals to “stalk, exploit, recruit, groom and extort children into the sex trade.”

The lawsuit does, however, cite a Texas law saying that anyone “who engages in the trafficking of persons or who intentionally or knowingly benefits from participating in a venture that traffics another person is liable to the person trafficked for damages arising from the trafficking of that person by the defendant or venture.”

The lawsuit says that Facebook should have warned the woman, who was 15 years old at the time she was victimized, that its platform could be used by sex traffickers to recruit and “groom” victims, including children.

In 2012, the lawsuit states, the 15-year-old was “friended” on Facebook by a person who was listed as a mutual friend with several others on her friend list. After sweet-talking her via Facebook messages, the man offered to meet her in person after she confided in him that she was fighting with her mother.

“Within hours of meeting the Facebook friend, photos were taken of Jane Doe and were posted on Backpage,” the lawsuit alleges. “Then [she] was raped, beaten, and forced into further sex trafficking.”

The lawsuit also charges that the man used a false identity on Facebook, and the company did not properly verify his identity, allowing the offenses to happen through its negligence.

“For over a decade Facebook has been providing predators unrestricted platform to prey on victims,” attorney Annie McAdams told the Chronicle. “Profiting from connecting people requires you to protect those with whom you connect.”

Photo By Minette Lontsie / Wikimedia Commons