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.
29 January 2018 UPDATE: 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're continuing to push for the Senate Majority Leader to bring SESTA to the floor for a vote immediately.
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 or FOSTA Subsitute) fails to reform CDA section 230 or include a civil remedy for victims. As part of the Coalition, this month we've reached out to the House Leadership to find a better solution. FOSTA is not a substitute for SESTA!
>>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: Please call and email your Senator today! SESTA passed the Senate Commerce Committee in November and now requires a full vote. Though there is a hold on it at the moment, Senators home offices are still and taking calls during the holidays. SESTA could be introduced early 2018 and we want to ensure it passes.
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.