We’ll put the moral of the story first: If an adult personals site says “you must be 18 years old to use this service,” it doesn’t mean the site certifies that everyone listing an ad is actually 18. So if you meet someone on the site and they seem young, check their age: The burden is on you.
From law school Professor Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law Blog comes the case of Doe v SexSearch.com. In October 2005, an Ohio man “John Doe” set up a $30/month “gold member” account on Sexsearch.com for the obvious reasons. Within a month, he found success, and met “Jane Roe.” Jane said she was 18.
Turns out that Jane — who got a credit card to set up her own $30 monthly account and lied to SexSearch about her age — was only 14.
Then things went sour. And Jane called the cops. Police surrounded John’s home, arrested him on three counts of “unlawful sexual contact with a minor.” Maximum penalty: 15 years in prison and lifetime categorization as a “sex offender.”
John must have had a good lawyer, because he got the criminal case thrown out of court and sealed. But the damage had been done: John’s (real) name had been dragged through the mud.
Naturally, he sued SexSearch. After all, he didn’t go looking for a minor, and SexSearch said that the ads on their site were all from legal adults.
But in a decision issued today, an appellate court dismissed the case.
Why? Because, the court ruled that when John signed up for SexSearch, he knew the only “ID check” on the site was a checkbox affirming an account-holder is over 18. So since SexSearch never asked for hard proof of his ID, the court said John should have had no expectation anyone was verifying her ID, even though the girl claimed she was 18 and SexSearch is an 18+ site.
Caveat sex suitors.
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