Attorney General Maura Healey threw her support behind a civil lawsuit aimed at a website that carries personal ads for people looking for sex, alleging the company assists in human trafficking.
Healey filed a brief Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston urging the court not to dismiss the lawsuit against Backpage.com, filed by three women who say they were sold for sex on the website when they were as young as 15.
Healey argues that websites that knowingly support human trafficking - and try to deceive the public and undercut law enforcement's efforts to protect victims - should not be immune from liability.
Backpage.com has asked the court to dismiss the case.
Lawyers for the website did not immediately return a request for comment but in the past have said that the company disputes the allegations and does more than any other online classified site to prevent the trafficking of minors.
Healey said she felt it was important for her office and the state to weigh in on the lawsuit, given what she said is the serious problem of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Massachusetts.
"What this is about is human victims - young people, people who are vulnerable, people who find themselves taken advantage of and brought into a life of crime and exploitation - and we're going to speak out against it," Healey said Friday.
Lawyers for the website in a similar lawsuit in Seattle have argued the suit should be thrown out because the website didn't write the ads, so it's not liable, pointing to the federal Communications Decency Act.
They argued Congress wrote the act to preserve free speech on the Internet by giving immunity to websites for items posted by users or members of sites.
Healey said Backpage.com is trying to hide behind a law Congress passed during the early days of the Internet to wall themselves off from responsibility.