WASHINGTON, D.C., Following a landslide vote in the Senate, sending H.R. 1865, the FOSTA-SESTA package, to the President who is expected to sign it into law, websites are stepping up accountability measures to ensure sex trafficking transactions are not occurring on their site. Craigslist and Reddit both put out statements on the change in their listings and City Vibe, shut down their whole site. In 2009, similar actions were taken by Craigslist, which was the first company to voluntarily remove ‘erotic’ ads from their website. Today they took the step to remove their entire personals section, which has increasingly become a platform for sex ads.
In many ways this is a continuation of a long fight against online facilitation of sex trafficking which goes back more than a decade. In 2007, Shared Hope International’s (SHI) Center for Law & Policy, produced one of the first research reports documenting websites’ role in facilitating the crime of sex trafficking. After studying the sex buying markets of Jamaica, The Netherlands, United States and Japan, Shared Hope found that “Technology has become the single greatest facilitator of the commercial sex trade.” Additionally, the study found that in 2007, “In both the Netherlands and the United States, commercial sex services and the victims providing those services are advertised extensively over the Internet, with a simple search of English language websites advertising escort services yielding 2.2 million results on Google.”
This research was submitted to the Congressional Record in 2010 when Shared Hope International founder and president, former Congresswoman Linda Smith, testified alongside Ernie Allen, then President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, about the proliferation of child sex trafficking in the United States and the internet’s role in contributing to the growth of this crime. Ten years after Shared Hope completed its 2007 research, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations produced a groundbreaking report following 2 years of investigation and including data provided by Shared Hope and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, that found that the website Backpage.com had been knowingly facilitating child sex trafficking.
The legislation passed this week is the culmination of over a decade research and work by Congress, NGOs and survivors to reign in bad actors online. Awakening to the harmful effect of website facilitation and technological proliferation of sex trafficking, Congress has prioritized the voices of survivors calling for protection from violence. As prostitution survivor, Alisa Bernard, stated in her compelling blog, “Online prostitution is not glamorous and it is not safer than street prostitution. The violence endemic to prostitution is not somehow mitigated by the internet. One study stated that violence is perpetrated predominantly by buyers regardless of venue of solicitation. The internet has normalized the buying of sex down to a negligible transaction.”
Such normalization of exploitation must end and the historic step taken by Congress this week will help to ensure that protecting exploited individuals, not profits, becomes the new normal.
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.
For media convenience, a variety of resources are available at www.sharedhope.org/press.