Online sexual trafficking and how to fight it
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Classified advertising websites have made it as easy as ordering a pizza to order human beings for sex from the privacy of one’s home, office, hotel room, or cell phone. Many of those bought and sold on such websites are sexually trafficked children and adults. One such website, Backpage.com, facilitates this activity by editing ads to conceal the illegality of underlying criminal activity.
Despite investigations by the U.S. Congress and several court cases, websites like Backpage.com are getting away with their role in facilitating sex trafficking, because of an outdated law that is shielding them from justice. That law is the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Most of the CDA was struck down by the Supreme Court years ago, but Section 230 remains and unfortunately, it is being interpreted by the courts to give Backpage immunity for facilitating online sex trafficking. For this reason the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), along with survivors, anti-trafficking advocates, law enforcement officials, and concerned citizens are calling on the U.S. Congress to amend the CDA.
Last week the U.S. House of Representatives voted 388 to 25 to pass H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner. An amendment to FOSTA sponsored by Rep. Mimi Walters added in S. 1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), sponsored by Senators Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal. FOSTA-SESTA amends the Communications Decency Act (CDA) so that interactive websites posting third-party content will no longer be immune from prosecution for sex trafficking facilitated via their sites and restore to victims of sex trafficking the right to sue the companies that facilitated and profited from their exploitation. Now FOSTA-SESTA is pending passage by the U.S. Senate.
The fight over FOSTA-SESTA has been bitter and entrenched and continues. Some in the tech industry, as well as organizations that promote decriminalized sexual exploitation (a.k.a. prostitution), are bringing all their resources to bear to stop passage of FOSTA-SESTA in the Senate. We can’t let the resounding vote in the House lull us into complacency.
Joining me to discuss the sort through all the issues is Lisa L. Thompson, Vice President of Policy & Research for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Lisa conducts policy analysis and advocacy, advances understanding of pornography’s public health harms, and liaises with public officials, advocates, and academics to advance strategies combating the web of sexual exploitation, including pornography, stripping, prostitution, sexual trafficking, sexual assault, and more.
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