Kohl-Welles, McGinn Crafting Legislation to Force Escort Ad ID Checks

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard), Mayor Mike McGinn, and Council Member Tim Burgess are crafting legislation which could require websites running escort ads in Washington to check IDs in-person.

The legislation comes as McGinn and Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna have been waging wars against Backpage.com for its role in the sex trafficking of young men and women.

The legislation would require anyone who places an escort ad in Washington—in print or online—”to do more than just checking a box that they’re adult,” Kohl-Welles says, referencing the sort of honor system used by sites like Backpage.com, to protect children from being prostituted online.

Police have said that requiring in-person ID checks for anyone posting an escort ad would likely greatly impact pimps’ abilities to prostitute children on the internet.

Another piece of Kohl-Welles’ legislation would be to redefine parts of the state’s laws regarding profiting off the prostitution of a juvenile to include websites. Kohl-Welles declined to go into great detail about just how the law would work.

In the months since McGinn, McKenna, and other politicians began threatening to crack down on Backpage.com, the company—which has seen a 50 percent increase in revenue from escort ads—has vowed to fight any government regulation of the site, which McGinn has called an “accelerant” of juvenile prostitution, a first amendment violation.

“It’s a challenging issue because of first amendment rights, Kohl-Welles says. “We’re trying to craft legislation that would be able to stand. I’m very civil liberties-oriented, but I think there’s a difference between having something that could restrict editorial [content] versus advertising.”

Kohl-Welles says she’ll meet with McGinn and other local politicos next week to talk more about the legislation.

“I think we have to address this,” Kohl-Welles says. “it’s going to have its challenges.”