SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco court ruled Thursday that an escort can be prosecuted for engaging in a sex act with a client while on the Internet.
The decision by a jury in San Francisco’s Federal District Court is the latest setback for Backpage, the now-defunct escort website that was shut down last year by a federal judge after it was accused of human trafficking.
Backpage, which was shuttered by federal authorities in 2014 after a lawsuit, allowed people to book an escort for $10 to $20 an hour to come to their homes, and sometimes to meet the clients in person.
But in the past two years, the company has taken steps to try to control its image.
Backpage launched an advertising campaign, launched a social media campaign and changed its policies.
But the changes have failed to stem a tide of criticism that the company was a major gateway for human trafficking and prostitution.
The judge who issued the ruling Thursday said he decided to give Backpage the benefit of the doubt.
He said the company had tried to protect the reputation of the escorts, even though there was no proof that they were engaging in sexual activity with clients.
But the judge said the escort ads on Backpage and other sites made it clear that the women were soliciting clients.
The court found that the ads violated a federal law that prohibits human trafficking, and also that Backpage was aware of the law and the risks associated with soliciting customers.