Web profile no defense to statutory rape

Honest belief that a female is over 18 is generally a defense to a statutory rap charge, but apparently relying on someone's web profile is not enough. Ars Technica reports that a federal judge threw out a suit by a man who sued SexSearch.

Honest belief that a female is over 18 is generally a defense to a statutory rap charge, but apparently relying on someone's web profile is not enough. Ars Technica reports that a federal judge threw out a suit by a man who sued SexSearch.com, an X-rated personals service.

"John Doe," a paying member of SexSearch.com, hooked up with "Jane Roe," in reality a 14-year-old but whose SS.com profile said she was 18.

Doe was arrested and charged with three separate accounts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, and he currently faces up to 15 years in prison as well as a lifetime registration as a sexual offender. Doe was publicly named for engaging in sexual relations with a minor, which he said ruined his reputation as a law-abiding citizen and caused him to lose his job.

Doe sued the site for negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and breach of warranty, but Judge Jack Zouhary ruled that the site were protected under section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Doe says it was all SexSearch.com's fault for saying "all persons within this site are 18+." SexSearch.com reserved the right to modify member profiles that it believed to be misleading or underage, thus Doe said it was negligent and deceptive.

Sorry, said the judge.

"Plaintiff was not an unsuspecting customer," wrote Zouhary in his opinion. "He was aware the SexSearch membership registration process did not include an age-verification procedure. As noted above, Plaintiff specifically agreed to Terms and Conditions which stated that SexSearch did not guarantee or verify any information provided by users of the website, and nothing outside of the Terms and Conditions creates warranties."

SexSearch.com was protected under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that "interactive computer services" cannot be held responsible for publishing information provided to them by members, the judge said. This same section protected MySpace from claims made by a teenager who was sexually molested by a man she met through MySpace.