Though the United States Communications Decency Act (CDA) Section 230 was never intended to legally protect websites that facilitate sex trafficking, that is exactly what is happening.
UPDATE 11 APRIL, 2018: The groundbreaking FOSTA/SESTA bill has been signed into US law by President Trump, establishing criminal and civil liability for websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking! This is truly a watershed moment in ending a culture that normalizes the sale of vulnerable women and children. This new law means internet companies will be more vigilant to prevent trafficking happening online and - when it does - victims will be able to get justice and seek damages for the harm they have suffered. This is a major victory. Thank you for the role you have played in making it happen.
UPDATE 21 MARCH, 2018: Today, the US Senate passed the historic FOSTA-SESTA bill! This is a huge success that will help put a stop to girls and women being sold online for sex. Thank you for taking a stand by urging your Representatives and Senators to speak up for children who are being bought and sold online for sex. This bill, which is expected to be signed into law by the President, is the first of its kind.
UPDATE - FEB - MAR 2018: We're in the final stretch! On 27 Februrary, the US House of Represenatives overwhelmingly passed The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA, H.R. 1865) which was amended in Februrary by Califorinia Represenative Mimi Walters (Walters Amendment) to allow websites that facilitate sex trafficking to be sued and held liable -- in line with SESTA. Now, the Senate needs to pass the bill without further delay so that it can be signed into law. We expect it to go before the Senate the week of 19 March. US Supporters - please call on your Senators to VOTE YES on the FOSTA - SESTA bill to give survivors a chance at justice and law enforcement the tools they need to enforce sex trafficking laws! Call 202-224-3121, option 1 or click here to find your Senator.
UPDATE - JAN - FEB 2018: Senate support for the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) continues to grow with 66 Senators currently co-sponsoring the bill. On Human Trafficking Awareness Day (11 Jan), Equality Now joined Rights4Girls, World Without Exploitation, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, survivors and other advocates on Capitol Hill to brief Congress members on why victims, survivors and law enforcement need SESTA. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who sponsored the bill, spoke out strongly to his fellow Senators on why we can't continue to wait to give survivors a chance at justice and authorities the tools they need to fully enforce human trafficking laws.
We are also advocating for the House of Represenatives to create a bipartisan solution that includes a victim's right to sue websites that facilitate human trafficking -- in line with SESTA. Its current legislation, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA) fails to reform CDA section 230 or include a civil remedy for victims. As part of the Coalition, we reached out to the House Leadership to find a better solution and in Februrary they listened! A new amendment has been submitted (the Walters Amendment) incorporating SESTA provisions and allowing websites that facilitate sex trafficking to be sued and held liable. This is a huge step forward and now FOSTA with the Walters Amendment is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, Februrary 27. US supporters: contact your Representative to make sure they are supporting it!
BACKGROUND ON ONLINE SEX TRAFFICKING
>>Nearly TWO-THIRDS of children sold for sex in the US are trafficked online.
>>EVERY DAY an estimated 150,000 new escort ads post online - the majority are for women and girls bought and sold for sex.
In 1996, Congress passed legislation to create an internet where ideas could be exchanged freely and to give internet service providers the ability to regulate explicit material on their sites. CDA Section 230, resultingly protects websites from liability for third-party published content. However, in its current form, the CDA has also allowed the internet to become a safe haven for sex traffickers.
For years, internet companies such as Backpage.com - the world's second largest classified advertising site - have knowingly promoted and facilitated online sex trafficking, often of children. In January 2017, a Senate investigation found that Backpage actively modified ads so they would pass by internet sensors. And, in July, documents revealed that Backpage also created and solicited sexual ads. However, despite repeated efforts to bring internet companies that facilitate and profit from online sex trafficking to justice, a majority of US courts, including the First Circuit Court of Appeals, have deemed that Section 230 shields the companies from criminal and civil liability -- even in cases when they knew of or participated in posting advertisements for sex from minors.
RAISE YOUR VOICE! There is a bill pending in the United States Senate that could help the thousands of women and girls who are being trafficked and exploited online. Make sure your Senator is supporting SESTA, S. 1963.
A few years ago, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children directly correlated a five-year 846% increase in child sex trafficking reports to the growing use of the internet to sell children for sex. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) S. 1963, a narrowly focused, bipartisan bill, targets websites that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking. It aims to hold websites that violate US federal sex trafficking laws accountable, without inadvertently affecting those that are not deliberately enabling sex trafficking. It would also allow federal law enforcement and state prosecutors to take action against individuals and businesses that use websites to violate federal human trafficking laws.
Much of the tech community had vehemently opposed this bill - including Facebook and Google - citing free speech concerns, the heavy burden of regulating content, and a perceived “chilling effect” the bill could have on startups. But, in November 2017, prominent tech industry groups changed their position and came out in support of SESTA. Opposition from many other internet groups and several Senators remains though, making the bill’s passage far from certain.
Passing SESTA will make it possible for victims to get justice by making sure that websites that facilitate sex trafficking can be sued and held liable, and ensure that the United States is meeting its obligations under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5, 8 and 16) and the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.
US supporters: Help get SESTA passed. The bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee in November 2017 but still requires a full vote. Please call on Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R - KY) to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote today! Reach the Senator at 202-224-2541 / @SenateMajLdr (Twitter).
Click here to find out if your Senator has co-sponsored SESTA. If they have, great! Please congratulate them. If not, please ask them to support the legislation.