WASHINGTON, D.C., Today the Senate passed H.R. 1865, the FOSTA-SESTA package, which provides access to justice for survivors of online sex trafficking and gives states critical tools for combatting this crime. This is a historic step by the US legislature to recognize the rights of victims by ensuring that websites who knowingly facilitate the sale of sex trafficking victims can be held responsible for their role in the crime.
This bill, now heading to the President’s desk, addresses the reality that sex trafficking is exploding online, finding haven in online classifieds that provide a platform to facilitate sex trafficking. Despite knowingly facilitating this crime these websites were permitted to hide behind an outdated and misinterpreted provision of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Section 230 of the CDA was never intended to protect entities that facilitate sex trafficking and yet, courts repeatedly interpreted Section 230 as providing blanket immunity for online entities, including online entities that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. In ruling against victims of sex trafficking who attempted to hold Backpage.com civilly liable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking, courts pointed to the need for Congress to address this injustice through a legislative solution. The growing problem of online sex trafficking is not a new concern. Shared Hope International, in 2007, after researching sex trafficking markets in Jamaica, The Netherlands, United States and Japan, found that “Technology has become the single greatest facilitator of the commercial sex trade.” In the intervening 11 years, the prevalence of sex trafficking online has virtually exploded.
Linda Smith, President and Founder of Shared Hope International, commented today on the meaning of this historic vote, “This is a step many of us have been working on for years. For close to a decade, research has increasingly shown the need to focus on technology as a facilitator of the crime of sex trafficking. Today Congress recognized this fact, and put survivors first. Survivors will now have legal recourse to pursue justice against online bad actors like Backpage.com.” Shared Hope is deeply appreciative of the legislators who championed this effort, including Senators Portman and Blumenthal for their strong leadership in the Senate joined by a team of bi-partisan original co-sponsors including Senators Cornyn, McCaskill, Heitcamp, Klobuchar and McCain, and for the tireless leadership of Representatives Wagner, Beatty, Maloney, McMorris Rogers and Walters in the House. Shared Hope also thanks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for ensuring this critical advancement in protections for sex trafficking survivors was able to move forward to the House and Senate floor for an overwhelming vote in both chambers. We also thank the 68 Senate co-sponsors and 174 House co-sponsors who heard the voices of advocates and survivors and gave this bill the momentum that carried it to passage. Shared Hope is also immensely appreciative of the partnership of advocates and survivors whose collective voices have enabled this legislation to overcome hurdle after hurdle and reach the President’s desk.
With Congress’ passage of the FOSTA-SESTA package today, Shared Hope International looks forward to this bill being quickly signed into law, opening the door to victims’ access to justice and enabling states to utilize their laws to combat the scourge of online sex trafficking. As the only NGO working in every state to end child sex trafficking through legal reform, Shared Hope International now looks forward to working with the states to ensure the strength of their laws aligns with the critical new tools provided by this historic legislation.
Susanna Bean | Susanna@sharedhope.org
Shared Hope International is an international anti-trafficking organization focusing on prevention, restoration and justice for victims of sex trafficking. Linda Smith, served as a state legislator and Member of Congress from Washington State (1983-1998), and is the author of Renting Lacy (2009). She founded Shared Hope in 1998. Shared Hope’s Center for Law & Policy leads state and federal legal reforms to advance protections for child sex trafficking victims with specific focus on amending the Communications Decency Act to restore survivors’ access to justice, eliminating laws that criminalize child sex trafficking victims for the crimes committed against them and ensuring that child sex trafficking victims receive the treatment and services they are entitled to as victims of a violent crime.
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