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 Despite knowingly facilitating this crime these websites were permitted to hide behind an outdated and misinterpreted provision of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).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 have repeatedly interpreted Section 230 as providing blanket immunity for online entities, including online entities that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. For this reason, Shared Hope actively engaged with both the House and Senate to pass H.R. 1865 legislation to amend CDA Section 230 and restore critical protections for sex trafficking survivors.
Thank you for your advocacy! Your voice helped to make these victories possible.
- February 27, 2018, H.R. 1865, The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Walters Amendment passed the House of Representatives
- March 21, 2018, H.R. 1865 passed the Senate
- April 11, 2018, the President signed H.R. 1865 into law
This critical bill amends #CDA230 to ensure sex trafficking survivors have access to justice through civil courts against the websites that facilitate and profit from their exploitation!
This morning @POTUS signed H.R. 1865 into law! This critical bill amends #CDA230 to ensure sex trafficking survivors have access to justice through civil courts against the websites that facilitate and profit from their exploitation! #ListentoSurvivors #FOSTA #SESTA pic.twitter.com/BmppoVSz4z— SharedHope Int'l (@SharedHope) April 11, 2018
Thank you to each of the original co-sponsors of #SESTA #FOSTA in the Senate, including @JohnCornyn @clairecmc, @SenatorHeitkamp @amyklobuchar @SenJohnMcCain for your role in passing this vital bill providing access to justice for survivors of sex trafficking.— SharedHope Int'l (@SharedHope) March 21, 2018
WHAT DOES THIS LEGISLATION DO?
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) would limit civil immunity and the federal preemption of state criminal prosecutions provided under Section 230 of the CDA for Interactive Computer Service Providers (ICSPs).
By creating these exemptions to CDA immunity, the bill:
- provides access to justice for victims of sex trafficking who were sold online through the ICSP’s website,
- returns to state prosecutors the ability to enforce state laws against ICSPs that facilitate sex trafficking, and
- closes the loophole in the law that allows some website operators to profit from the sex trafficking of adults and children without risk or culpability.
WILL HOLDING WEBSITES LIABLE FOR ADVERTISING SEX TRAFFICKING HURT CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS?
Refusing to amend the CDA fails to recognize the ever-changing nature of the internet. As one law enforcement partner shared,
This type of crime investigation is what Law Enforcement calls an ever changing threat environment, and we have to adapt. We must approach [sex trafficking] as always changing, rather than expecting it to stay the same and employing the same investigative tools.
WILL AMENDING THE CDA CREATE MORE DANGEROUS CONDITIONS FOR VICTIMS BY MOVING SOLICITATION OF COMMERCIAL SEX BACK ONTO THE STREETS?
A small number of people engaging willingly in prostitution make this claim but in fact sex trafficking survivors’ voices paint a very different picture:
The truth is trafficking is incredibly dangerous wherever it occurs. The main danger is from the trafficker and buyer, who will be present no matter the location …Telling ourselves that Backpage.com’s advertisement services somehow makes it safer and less harmful is an illusion at best, and a travesty at worst …[N]othing makes the fact that you are being raped several times a day by someone, who paid to do it, easier to live with.
IS THERE EVIDENCE THAT WEBSITES ARE ACTUALLY FACILITATING CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING?
- “To better understand Spotlight’s impact over the past 12 months we surveyed our current law enforcement users … Victims identified: 6,325, Children identified: 1,980, Traffickers identified: 2,186.” (Thorn Spotlight Impact Infographic, 2017)
- “YouthSpark in Atlanta, Georgia, surveyed service providers across the nation on questions related to domestic minor sex trafficking victims in their care. Seventy-two percent of the child victims in their care were bought and sold for sex online.” (Shared Hope Remarks, AZ Governor’s Task Force, 2014)
- “Of all the child sex trafficking reports submitted by members of the public to the CyberTipline, more than seventy-one percent (71%) relate to Backpage ads.” (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Yiota G. Souras testimony, United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, 2017)
IS A CDA AMENDMENT THE END OF A FREE INTERNET?
It is unreasonable to claim that preserving the Communications Decency Act in the exact form as it was enacted over 20 years ago is essential to the internet’s continued existence. After creating the World Wide Web 28 years ago, The “Father of the Web,” Tim Berners-Lee recently stated that,
[T]he people designing the current networks need to adjust their strategies, and have to rethink their roles and ensure they make online spaces into ‘places where nice things happen’.”