Victims of sex trafficking today are “one significant step closer” to unleashing their advocates and lawyers against websites that “knowingly exploit women and children for financial gain by serving as a brothel for online advertisements for traffickers and pimps.”
And Donna Rice Hughes, president and CEO of the activist organization Enough is Enough, says now the Senate needs to follow the lead of the U.S. House, which overwhelmingly approved H.R. 1865, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.
She called the 388-25 vote “historic” and said the plan “sends a strong message to federal courts who have for far too long misinterpreted Congress’s original intent of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, allowing such websites to be shielded from claims of sex trafficking victims while profiting to the tune of millions.”
The move is a “critical step” toward draining the “cyberswamp of commercial sexploitation by the sellers and buyers of women and children and the companies who shield them,” she said.
The bill would change a foundational Internet law, allowing prosecutors and sex trafficking victims to overcome a presumption of immunity for websites that host third-party content.
The plan removes immunity for Web platforms if the site operators violate a state law against “promotion or facilitation of prostitution.”
Supporters said the change would allow victims to hold accountable companies such as Backpage.com, which posts personal ads.
It also would let state prosecutors go after such cases.
Hughes said Enough Is Enough “applauds the commitment of the U.S. House of Representatives for coming to a speedy resolution.”
Now, she said, it’s time “to move this bill forward to the Senate with a matter of urgency, which has already offered unprecedented bipartisan support of 67 Senate co-sponsors.”
“Each day that passes by represents a day that countless women and children are exploited in the most unimaginable and degrading fashion. Enough Is Enough joins with survivors, state attorneys general and advocacy groups in saying that we will not stand by idly while website executives line their pockets at the expense of those they abuse,” said Rice.
“Now it’s time to listen once and for all to the voices of trafficking survivors who are desperately seeking justice, and eliminate the federal liability protections for the greedy masterminds behind the websites that place profit over human dignity.”
Hughes explained the section first was intended to protect children from online exploitation, but instead it has been used to provide immunity for Internet service and content providers.
She said prosecutors describe the pages as an “online brothel.”
During his 2016 campaign, President Trump signed the group’s Children’s Internet Safety Presidential Pledge, promising to work to enforce laws to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.
There are critics of the change who say that it risks crushing online entrepreneurship. They suggest website moderators would choose not to moderate any content to avoid liability for allegedly facilitating sex trafficking.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation argued: “Facing the threat of extreme criminal and civil penalties, web platforms large and small would have little choice but to silence legitimate voices. Platforms would have to take extreme measures to remove a wide range of postings, especially those related to sex.”
But Lauren Hersh of the World Without Exploitation advocacy group said that on “both sides of the aisle, lawmakers are putting people above profits and understanding the need to update a law that until now has protected sites that allow women and children to be sold online for sex right here in our country.”
“Today’s vote sends a clear a message that the Internet is no longer a safe haven for sex traffickers and those who profit from them.”