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By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, May 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The mother
of a murdered U.S. teenager filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against
Backpage.com, claiming her daughter was killed because she had
been sold for sex on the huge classified advertising website.
Backpage has been hit by lawsuits saying it promotes
trafficking in its ads, offering children for commercial sex,
but this is believed to be the first case in the nation linking
Backpage to trafficking and a specific murder.
Each year, some 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk of
being trafficked for commercial sex in the United States,
according to the Department of Justice.
The mother, Yvonne Ambrose, filed the civil lawsuit against
Backpage in an Illinois state court after her daughter Desiree
Robinson was murdered last year in a Chicago suburb.
Robinson had been repeatedly advertised for sex on Backpage,
the lawsuit said. The teen had been missing for several weeks
when she was found dead on Christmas Eve.
Antonio Rosales, 32, is charged with Robinson's murder and
has pleaded not guilty.
The teen had been with Rosales the night she died, said
Ambrose's attorney, Gina Arquilla DeBoni.
The lawsuit, which seeks minimum monetary damages of
$50,000, claims Backpage knew it was facilitating sex
trafficking, DeBoni said.
The second-largest U.S. online classified ad service after
Craigslist, Backpage has faced scrutiny from the U.S. Senate
over allegations that it facilitates sex trafficking, especially
A Senate report early this year found that Backpage removed
words that indicated a person being advertised was a child, such
as "little girl" and "amber alert" and would post sanitized ads.
The company has repeatedly triumphed in court by arguing it
is hosting content, not creating it, and is protected from
liability by a federal law that protects free speech, the
federal Communications Decency Act.
DeBoni said this is believed to be the first case linking
Backpage to sex trafficking and a murder.
"It highlights just how dangerous Backpage's actions are,"
she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Backpage did not immediately respond to a request for
Backpage earlier this year shut its "adult" section,
decrying what it called "government censorship."
However, the ads have since migrated to a different section
of Backpage, experts say.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ellen
Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)