Turns Out You Can't Sue SexSearch.com If The Girl You Met Via It Is Underage

from the well-that-makes-sense dept

Another day, another case where someone tried to blame a website for the actions of its users. In this case, a guy used the website SexSearch (seriously) to find someone to have sex with (ah, the internet...). The woman he met claimed in her profile that she was 18 years old. In reality, she was apparently only 14 -- and the guy was eventually brought up on statutory rape charges. In turn, he sued SexSearch, claiming that the site had a responsibility to verify the ages of its users -- something he failed to do himself. After a district court ruling tossed out the lawsuit, an appeals court has also tossed out the lawsuit, noting that none of the various 14 claims the guy brought against the site seemed to hold up under scrutiny. Basically, as the judge in the district court noted: "Plaintiff clearly had the ability to confirm Jane Roe’s age when he met with her in person, before they had sex, yet failed to do so." Thus, it's pretty difficult for him to then claim that it was the website's responsibility to accurately verify the age of participants.

Still, as Eric Goldman notes in the link above, the appeals court differed with the lower court on one point: saying that it wasn't dismissing the case for section 230 safe harbor reasons -- which ordinarily protect a service provider from the actions of its users. The lower court felt that 230 applied, but the appeals court feared that such a ruling would extend the coverage of section 230 "potentially abrogating all state- or common-law causes of action brought against interactive Internet services." I'm not sure I agree with that at all. No one is saying that safe harbors get service providers off the hook for illegal activities they perform. The point is that they should not be responsible for illegal actions performed by their users.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Mox, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 5:49am

    Aww man, all the girls I find on these sites say they are 18 but really turn out to be 48. :(

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 5:51am

    illegal actions performed by their users.

    So... the one performing the illegal action here in the guy, right? Who had consensual sex with a girl he met online. As opposed to the girl, who lied about her age. It's all rather twisted, but it seems to me that, aside from negligence in not verifying her age, the only one who did anything wrong was the girl. But she's apparently not punished at all?

     

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  3.  
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    Big-Mike, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 5:52am

    What about the proof she miss represented herself? Isn't this a case where the parents are trying to blame someone else for the way they raised their child? I don't know the whole story here but ruining a man's life over her lie seems a like a bit extreme.

     

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  4.  
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    John Doe, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 5:55am

    Jane Roe?

    Jane Roe? That's the anonymous name they picked for a girl? Is she a fish?

     

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  5.  
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    Danny, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 5:57am

    I've never understood...

    why kids (mainly girls) are allowed to get away with such things. This is not the first time a girl has lied about her age, had sex, and then the walked away scot free. Its stupid for the guy to sue the site they used but considering that since that girl will never face the consequences of her actions I guess I can't blame him...

     

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  6.  
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    Alex, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 6:01am

    Cut the guy some slack, he's just trying to find a way out of his predicament. If he could successfully sue the website (which is feasible) they would have had to drop the charges, because hey, it's sexsearch.com's fault

     

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  7.  
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    Phillip, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 6:13am

    Yeah, I'm not sure what to think. I mean it's usually not hard to tell the difference between a 14 year old and an 18 year old, but there are some exceptions.

    I really don't like the idea of this guy getting charged with Statutory Rape because of someone else's lie.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 6:16am

    Agree with 2 & 3

    While I agree that the fact that the site shouldn't be held liable for the actions of its users, I also agree with 2 and 3. The person most at fault here is the girl (and, indirectly, her parents). *Sigh* Yet now he's going to be branded as a sex offender for the rest of his life because he didn't ask her for ID (which we all do before having sex, obviously).

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 6:17am

    Seeing as how she consented to the sex, and was clearly old enough to voluntarily seek out and find such situations, no-one ought to go to jail. It is a victimless crime. I agree with the other person who said this is a case of the parents trying to ruin someone else, because of their guilty feelings over being failures as parents.

     

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  10.  
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    usmcdvldg, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 6:35am

    After looking at the lawsuit

    I think the site should have been held liable for two reason. One of the 14 counts was that the site actively marketed that all members were over the age of 18, making no mention of the possibility of this being untrue. Too, this is a pay site. You have to pay to be a member, which means they were advertising a pay service. They should be liable for damages caused by products or services that do not live up to marketing claims.

    The court basically left them off for no there reason except they were a web site.

    I wish i was a laywer because these seems really interesting. If Microsoft puts a dollar cap in its Xbox EULA and the Xbox burns down your house, can you not sue Microsoft for damages exceeding the price of the Xbox?

    If an escort service sends you a 14yr old girl which you latter have sex with, is the escort service liable?

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 6:41am

    I actually ID everyone I eventually get into the sack... I'm paranoid that way... but I try to be crafty about it so I don't seem like some sorta bouncer. For instance act like I can't find my license to rent pool balls at a bar and have her pull out hers... if she refuses to you know something is up.

     

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  12.  
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    usmcdvlg, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 6:42am

    for the record

    This guy didn't go to jail. Quoted from the acual court document.

    For reasons that are unclear, the charges were later dismissed and Doe’s
    records were sealed. Doe claims, however, that the arrest and prosecution — and the
    publicity that accompanied them — caused lasting harm to his reputation, family life, and
    employment prospects.

    At least the cops/prosecutor/judge had some common freakin since.

     

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  13.  
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    Michial, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 6:45am

    Didn't both the site and the guy commit crimes

    They don't mention the guys age, but since this is statutory rape instead of child molestation he was obviously young himself...

    I think it's reasonable for you to assume a site like SexSearch.com would do it's due diligence to make sure the users of of legal age? There are a lot of states where allowing minors on sites like that is illegal in it's self.

    As for the guy, I don't think it's fair to tag him with the stigma of being a sex offender either, but he did commit a crime of negligence. I would think it would be fair for him to plea his way out of a sex crime but still pay a criminal penalty for his actions.

    The parents on the other hand are the ones that need to face criminal charges of neglect for allowing the kid into such a situation.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 7:03am

    Re: for the record

    Well, that at least is good to hear.

     

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  15.  
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    DS, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 7:17am

    Re: I've never understood...

    Almost sounds like entrapment to me.

    At the very least, she knew what she was doing, so where's the child that needs to be protected from the evil adults?

     

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  16.  
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    Generic Foe, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 7:18am

    whos guilty?

    I agree that the rape charges were most likely brought about by the parents but the girl could have went to the police and the District Attorney could have filed as well. I also agree that he is just trying to get out of trouble by sueing the website but I think his chance was to defend better against the charges. The girl won't ever be found in fault simply because she is 14. This is why we have the law and arbitrary decision that 18 is the "grown up line". Those that are a few years below the line are considered not to be able to make rational decisions for themselves. i would suspect that if this was a 17 year old the charges might have been dropped. I think the true defense for this man would have to show the aggressiveness of the girl and how much she controlled the situation or sought other engagements other than this one. After all this is not a case of the man stalking teen message boards and posing as a teen to take advantage. This is the other way around where she represented herself as 18 and was activily seeking. Too few details here to really pick it apart cause the man could have had a crime history that brought the charges down on him that otherwise with a clean record he might have walked on. An obvious guilty party here is the parents or the lack of parents. She obviously needs some proper guidance and adjustment socially to even desire such an encounter at that age and go to the lengths to obtain it.

    I'm usually one to blaim but in these cases, in these days i tend to lean toward seeing someone in obvious trouble.

    Should the guy be labeled a child rapist? Probably not in this case when she was activily seeking. If I were a judge I would send them both to counseling. Then go after harder legislation against these websites and hold them accountable for the age of people that use there site. I'm all for the capitalism and even letting adults hook up but these sites are purposing walking the line to take advantage of their users.

     

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  17.  
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    DS, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 7:24am

    It sounds like SexSearch allowed an underage girl to be on an adult website. That's got to account for something.

     

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  18.  
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    MAtt, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 7:29am

    Re:

    What if the ID is fake? Should I be required to have official fake ID-spotting equipment and be trained in its use in order to avoid such charges?

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 7:38am

    Re: Re: I've never understood...

    Entrapment only applies if law enforcement does it, I think.

     

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  20.  
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    PaulT (profile), Dec 31st, 2008 @ 7:59am

    Re: After looking at the lawsuit

    "If an escort service sends you a 14yr old girl which you latter have sex with, is the escort service liable?"

    Probably, but this wasn't an escort service. By the sounds of things, it's basically a more adult oriented version of any dating site you want to name. It allows people to get in touch and, well, arrange to have sex (as opposed to starting a relationship, which is what most dating sties aim to do).

    Whereas an escort agency would be responsible for employing the escorts (and therefore be liable for the employment of said people, including making sure they're of legal age for the job), this site has no such liabilities. They merely provided a platform for two people who wanted to have sex to communicate with each other.

    At the end of the day, who signed the girl up to this service, in violation of their terms and conditions? If anyone is liable for this happening, that's the person the blame ultimately lies with. Yet, that person was probably the girl herself. Why should the site be held liable for her defrauding them?

    The site could probably have more security to prevent this kind of thing. But, the internet by its nature can allow people to totally misrepresent themselves online - it would be impossible for them to have concrete proof of her age, especially since most people wanting anonymous sex wouldn't want to leave a paper trail with a website. It's like eBay - sure, they could probably do more to prevent fraud and stolen goods being laundered through their site but they can never have perfect protections - caveat emptor has to apply.

     

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  21.  
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    Thanatos, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 7:59am

    I think we have all seen cases as such before, and I always find that the backing stories tend to be contradictory based on the supposed lifestyle of the child & parents.

    A child is able to go online and register at sex search, meet up with an adult, screw him, and then go home. First, how long was the girl registered at sexsearch? Second, what time was the arranged meeting? Third, was she a virgin?

    What I would try to point out would be the magical appearance of parental care for the child. Why wasn't their parental involvement before she registered? Or when she went out to meet him? If the girl has been able to hide everything up to that point, why couldn't she hide her encounter? The idea that a shag date she, in part, set up herself was so traumatizing that she had to tell her parents will never sit right with me.

    Penalize the guy, fine. But the parents and the girl definitely need some social worker visits, as well as penalties of their own.

     

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  22.  
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    usmcdvldg, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 8:19am

    Re: Re: After looking at the lawsuit

    The site took on this liability by promising all the girls were in fact 18yrs or older.

    What I take from it is that not everyone is as tech savvy as the readers here. And the site made a promise of there service; in that all the girls are at least 18. They failed to live up to that promise.

    This guy paid $30 for the service of being introduced to 18yr old girls. He was introduced to a 14yr old which caused him damages being a direct result of the service not living up to its promise.

    If the site can't verify the girls are 18, It shouldn't promise that. The fact this man paid for the service and conditional on this promise is what makes me believe they should be liable.

     

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  23.  
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    Danny, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 8:46am

    how about these facts?

    Let me change the facts a bit and ask...

    What if the sex site offered downloadable pictures. The site claims all pictures are of 18+ year olds. Customer purchases and downloads a picture. Turns out the model actually was only 14. State learns of the picture on the customer's computer and charges him with possession of child pornography.

    Is he guilty? Is the site liable?

    This is different from the facts of the actual case in that customer has less opportunity to independently ascertain age of the model/prostitute. But the role of the site seems to me to be the same in each case.

     

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  24.  
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    Sean, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 9:37am

    Re: I've never understood...

    I'm not sure of all the details, but when signing up for a site there is a contract that you agree to. On a site like that I'm sure they have a section stating that you are 18 years of age or older, she broke that contract since she was not over 18. Minors can enter into contracts in different situations. I do not know what state this happened in but in several states the age of consent is 16 some places its higher and in a few it is lower(not that is matters much here).

    He "should" have checked her age but was trusting in people being truthful and was misled. She misrepresented herself and he depended on that information to complete the implied contract between the two (having sex with someone of legal age via the site SexSearch). She was in breach of contract and due to that Mr.Doe has suffered great losses (court fees, reputation, possibly a sex offender, and felony charges). On top of that she initiated the act by inviting him to her house. All of this would have been avoided if she would have been truthful from the beginning and Mr.Doe would have never suffered these damages.

    So in his case he should turn around and sue the offending party Jane Roe.

    Rule #1 sue EVERYONE.

     

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  25.  
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    Yakko Warner, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 9:56am

    If Lori Drew taught us anything...

    ...then the girl is guilty of criminal computer fraud and must be prosecuted.

     

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  26.  
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    Sean, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 10:01am

    Re: Re: I've never understood...

    Almost forgot if he had asked for ID and she provided a fake one where would this be?

     

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  27.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 10:02am

    Re: how about these facts?

    If that site was responsible for providing the pictures than the site would be liable, but it would not be a good comparison to this case.

    A better comparison would be a site like one of the chans. A forum site that provides sections that are adult oriented with an "I Agree" button to get into them. This "I Agree" button is an agreement that you are over the age of consent and that no picture is of a person under the age of consent. Since, I believe, the US has the most strict policy, that age usual sits at 18 (in 4chan it actually uses that number). Now if a user downloads a picture that is not of legal age, the site is not responsible but the original poster is.

    I'll tell you this right now: I don't think he had any legal grounds to file any kind of suit against sexsearch, but I can tell you that I would to the same exact thing in his shoes. That guy is now fucked for life. (And I don't think he would have any more success failing against Ms. Roe)

     

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  28.  
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    PaulT (profile), Dec 31st, 2008 @ 10:06am

    Re: Re: Re: After looking at the lawsuit

    Fair enough, they shouldn't be promising something they can't verify. But, guess what? NO internet site can be totally sure. Even if signed legal documents with fingerprints and DNA had to be provided, the site would still not know that the person logging into the account was the one who created it.

    As I said, it's like eBay. Caveat emptor. Buyer beware - you have to be responsible for checking the "merchandise" when you receive it, whether it's an iPod, a car or a girl you intend to have consensual sex with. The "goods" are provided in good faith, and the user should check that they're as described before using, just as you should check the eBay purchase works as described when you get it. Sounds a little harsh and inhuman like that, but it's true. Just a standard dating site shouldn't be held responsible if a user provided a fake photo or lied about their martial status or number of kids, this site shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of a user.

    Maybe they can be prosecuted if they continue to claim that all their users are over 18 following this incident, for false advertising, but that's all it can be and all it should be.

     

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  29.  
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    chris, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 10:06am

    Re: whos guilty?

    I agree with that completely

     

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  30.  
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    Phil McCraken, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 10:07am

    SHE WAS 14 YEARS OLD YOU ASSHATS! IT DOESN'T MATTER IF WHE SAID SHE WAS 18 THE IDIOT SHOULD HAVE KNOWN SHE WAS UNDERAGE. HAVE YOU LOOKED AT A 14 YEAR OLD LATELY, YOU'RE ALL SCUMBAGS TRYING TO JUSTIFY SEX WITH A 14 YEAR OLD. THIS GUY IS A DOUCHE!

     

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  31.  
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    Jesse, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 10:42am

    If a girl shows a guy a really good fake ID are you still responsible?

    Yea 14 is pretty young, for the most part that should be obvious. I mean, I think 18 is still pretty young if you are any older than 25...but the difference between 16 and 18 is pretty subtle. And fake IDs are pretty common.

     

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  32.  
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    Jesse, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 11:02am

    Who is justifying sex with a 14 year old? I am pretty sure most of us think that is disgusting, and I bet many of us would stay clear of anyone in their teens just for the immaturity, if not the risk of her turning out to be jail bait.

    I think the question is, what does a person have to do to satisfy this law? If a minor (lets say 17) is determined to fraudulently misrepresent his/her age, then how far does the burden of responsibility rest with the major? At the end of the day, it sounds like this guy is a creep. But don't you think it is possible that at least some well-intentioned, genuinely good people have made an honest mistake and had to pay for it?

    Also, in the states, are there exceptions if say one person is 18 and the other is 17? I mean say a couple is sexually active at 16/17 and then they get older and it's all of a sudden a felony? In BC, Canada we have a 2 year window I think, what do you guys have?

     

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  33.  
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    Big Mike, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 12:22pm

    Why is there always some commenter that jumps on the "YOU'RE ALL SCUMBAGS" like we are all out to make it easier to have sex with young girls? My only point is, where are the parents when this girl is out acting like she is an adult? Not everyone checks ID before they have sex. Not to say the guy may have known she was not of age and did it anyway and in which case deserves what he gets. Seems most everyone here was going along the premise of what was said in the story. She knew her age he didn't, she lied and he got in trouble.

     

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  34.  
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    usmcdvldg, Dec 31st, 2008 @ 2:07pm

    Re:

    Your dumb. I Although most 14yr olds or obviously 14 many are not. Its a simple fact of life. Your Dumb

     

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  35.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 1st, 2009 @ 1:14pm

    Re:

    Funny, I can't see any posts justifying his actions, only those saying that the site's not to blame. There is the suggestion that this girl wasn't the virginal innocent that some people associate with teenagers, but that's about it.

    Here's a new year resolution for you - practice reading comprehension. It'll help you understand what other people are saying and give your caps lock key a rest.

     

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  36.  
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    Esahc (profile), Jan 2nd, 2009 @ 8:26am

    Re:

    "HAVE YOU LOOKED AT A 14 YEAR OLD LATELY"

    I live in coastal Southern California, allot (not all) of these 14 year old girls (sadly) actually look in there early twenties. If they are heavy meth users some actually look 30.

     

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  37.  
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    TimD, Jan 13th, 2009 @ 11:44am

    SexSearch is great!

    I've been a member for two months and have had many great hook ups. SexSearch even has a bikini girl on site 24/7 to help you sign up!

     

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  38.  
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    pdapda, Jul 12th, 2009 @ 3:38am

    sex search

    sexxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

     

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  39.  
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    Mel, Oct 5th, 2009 @ 12:46am

    Re: Didn't both the site and the guy commit crimes

    Actually, the site does age verification for any one who sign sup (including girls that list themselves on the site) the girl would have had to commit a felony and lied on the forms, and most likely used tor parents information in order to be ON the site.

    All 3 parties are very in the wrong here. No one as much as this girl, who should have been counter sued, I think.

     

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  40.  
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    none of your fucking business, Aug 15th, 2012 @ 2:21pm

    fake

    This is fake!!!! ALL OF IT!!!! Read the end of the first paragraph! Notice a little gay E symbol??? Compliments of the website, Online Emissary Feature is what it stands for!! FAKE!!!! NOT real people, I am willing to be this whole thing is a scam, there was no lawsuit!!! It's all made up by the website! Do your damn research! You will see, this is fake!!! AND, I am absolutely blown away how people and websites are legally allowed to do this shit!!!


    If this were real, think about this.....the girl lied on the website about her age, a website that makes you pay money for membership, and she hooked up with someone, "apparently" and yelled out rape.....NO RETARDS, the site and the female are to blame!!!!!!!! PERIOD! Again, I wish you to do research from other websites that have had this issue, when you LIE on a contract, you lose! Period, end of story! Anyone read the T.O.S.? You are legally saying you are of age, it only bites you in the ass, not the poor guy you are trying to screw over even if you didn't like the way the cookie crumbled!!!!!!

     

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