A Win in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking
I have some good news to share with you from Washington. Last week, the House passed a transformational, historic bill I co-authored to crack down on online sex trafficking. It's called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). This legislation will go a long way toward protecting women and girls from being exploited online and empowering them to take legal action against websites that participate in their exploitation. And I am pleased that Senator McConnell has announced that the bill is scheduled to be considered by the Senate as early as next week.
Sex trafficking is nothing less than modern-day slavery. People, usually women and girls, are sold, abused, and then sold again.
Increasingly, sex trafficking is being promoted through online advertising. Websites like the notorious Backpage.com actively facilitate and allow sex trafficking advertising on their sites. Yet, despite numerous efforts by law enforcement and survivors to sue, these websites have been able to escape accountability for their roles in selling trafficking victims, thanks to ambiguity in our federal laws. In 2017, 50 Attorneys General from states and territories wrote to Congress asking that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 be amended to correct this. In a 2016 case brought against Backpage, the First Circuit Court of Appeals concluded there was a “fundamental tension” between Section 230 and trafficking victims’ private right of action and echoed that plea for Congressional clarification, saying “the remedy is through legislation, not litigation.” In other words, Congress had to decide whether it wants to protect internet platforms participating in online trafficking or boys and girls who are being exploited. That’s an easy choice for me to make.
FOSTA makes clear that internet companies that facilitate sex trafficking are not shielded by federal law and gives states better tools to crack down on these horrendous crimes. It also enables trafficking survivors and their families to bring civil action against websites who have engaged in advertising and selling them for commercial sex. Throughout my career in Congress, I have joined and led efforts to pass legislation to address the demand for and sale of commercial sex, which means going after the traffickers, pimps and Johns who buy and sell trafficking victims and children. I am proud to have supported the passage of landmark anti-trafficking legislation, including the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, that enable law enforcement to apprehend traffickers and provide support to survivors so they can rebuild their lives with dignity. I have sounded the alarm on Backpage for years, and the House has now taken a big step to remove barriers to prosecuting websites that engage in sex trafficking.
As always, I remain committed to eradicating human trafficking and will continue to advocate for this bill's passage in the Senate and signature by the President.