Mar 26 2018
Groundbreaking Legislation Would Close Loophole Allowing Websites to Victimize Children
On March 21, the Senate followed the House of Representatives in passing legislation that would crack down on the use of the internet by sex traffickers and expand the penalties brought against those who help facilitate this exploitation. The bill, titled the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” would mark a significant milestone in the fight against trafficking.
To stop trafficking online, the bill would close a loophole in a 1996 communications policy. Websites like Backpage.com have used this loophole to avoid being penalized for their role in displaying the classified advertisements that sex traffickers post to solicit customers. It is shameful that these websites can profit from this criminal activity, making millions of dollars as the vehicles through which predators sell children.
Bill Would Expose Online Hiding Places for Predators
The 1996 communications policy was designed to help promote a free and flourishing Internet. The idea was to shield online businesses from being punished for illegal content that users had posted without the website provider’s knowledge. But any complicity in the persistence of online sex trafficking will not be tolerated. A Senate investigation found that Backpage.com has become aware of the site’s use by sex traffickers. It is not an unknowing bystander.
With President Trump’s signature, this anti-trafficking bill would ensure that these horrific online hiding places for child predators are exposed. No child should suffer what 16-year-old Desiree Robinson went through after being advertised on Backpage.com. Desiree was sold for sex and found brutally murdered on Christmas Eve. Her mother is an advocate for congressional action that will protect other innocent lives from becoming trafficking victims.
The bill joins other recent legislative efforts to end human trafficking and bring its perpetrators to justice. Sex trafficking is on the increase, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which found it had increased by 846 percent between 2010 and 2015. The use of the internet by sex traffickers is cited as a major factor in this upward trend.
War Against Trafficking Deserves National Attention
I am pleased my Republican colleagues are taking the fight against human and sex trafficking seriously. In the past few years, the Republican-led Senate has passed multiple pieces of legislation to prevent trafficking, recognizing its prevalence not just in far-flung places but here in our local communities and neighborhoods.
I have repeatedly supported these efforts, in addition to authoring my own anti-trafficking legislation. I believe in strengthening our outreach to victims and law enforcement; creating a longer statute of limitations for child victims to take legal action against their attackers; and establishing special courts to offer child victims the care and rehabilitation they deserve.
We will not cease in this fight until our children are safe. The near-unanimous support for the anti-trafficking bill currently being sent to the President’s desk should be a wake-up call to anyone who seeks to use the internet to do our children harm and anyone who knowingly helps them. Targeting perpetrators requires targeting the spaces in which they conduct their crimes.