On Wednesday, President Trump signed into law the ability for states and victims to fight back against online sex trafficking. The signing followed an overwhelmingly bipartisan push through both chambers of Congress. The House of Representatives voted 388 to 25 in favor of the measure and the Senate voted 97 to 2 in favor.
As CNN reports, Trump’s signature enacted the legal ability for people and state governments to hold websites accountable which are knowingly facilitating sex trafficking.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 11, 2018
“Trafficking is probably worse today than at any time in our history,” the president said, per the report. “You are not alone.”
Today @POTUS will sign the bipartisan #FOSTA #SESTA bill, which combats sex trafficking online, holds perpetrators accountable & ensures justice for survivors. Thank you @senrobportman @SenBlumenthal @RepAnnWagner & @RepMimiWalters. The @WhiteHouse is committed to #EndTrafficking
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) April 11, 2018
From the report:
While the problem is chronically underreported and there is no official estimate of the total number of victims in the US, an estimate from advocacy group Polaris puts the number of victims nationally “into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated.”
The legislation received support from members on both sides of the aisle, as well as advocacy organizations like Polaris, ECPAT USA and the National Center on Missing & Exploited Children. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, spearheaded the bill’s efforts in the Senate. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, sponsored the bipartisan House bill.
Even before getting signed, the legislation already had an effect: some sites facilitating sex trafficking have shut down; Reddit has changed its policy “regarding paid services involving physical sexual contact”; Craigslist has shuttered its personal ads section.
“We’ve already interrupted 87% of the global ad volume. Thirty-plus websites and online platforms have either shut down or had major policy changes,” Wagner told CNN in an interview in her office Tuesday afternoon.
Today at the WH: Pres Trump has a bill-signing this morning of a bill to combate online sex trafficking. It imposes a federal fine or prison term of up to 10 years on those using the Internet or other advertising to facilitate prostitution.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) April 11, 2018
Here’s more on the legislation, per the Speaker’s Office:
Recently, Congress passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) to help authorities crack down on websites that enable sex trafficking. Even before being signed into law, this legislation is already paving the way for change, making it easier for law enforcement to take action.
Federal authorities have seized control of Backpage.com—notorious for enabling traffickers—and indicted its owners, executives, and employees. Websites like Reddit and Craigslist have reacted to the new law by shutting down certain advertising pages. The New York Times noted about FOSTA:
“It makes it easier for states to prosecute, or for victims to sue, internet companies they accuse of hosting content that facilitated sex trafficking. While President Trump has not yet signed FOSTA into law, Craigslist has already responded to the bill’s passage by taking down its personal ads section.”
Perpetrators of sex trafficking have used bad actor websites like Backpage to expand their reach. Pleased to see legislation Congress passed to help authorities crack down on these websites start to take effect. https://t.co/CCqQWUijL7
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) April 10, 2018
Here’s even more, per Congress:
(Sec. 2) This bill expresses the sense of Congress that section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 was not intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims. Section 230 limits the legal liability of interactive computer service providers or users for content they publish that was created by others.
(Sec. 3) The bill amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both—on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.
Additionally, it establishes enhanced penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 25 years, or both—for a person who commits the offense in one of the following aggravating circumstances: (1) promotes or facilitates the prostitution of five or more persons, or (2) acts with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking.
A person injured by an aggravated offense may recover damages and attorneys’ fees in a federal civil action.
A court must order mandatory restitution, in addition to other criminal or civil penalties, for an aggravated offense in which a person acts with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking.
A defendant may assert, as an affirmative defense, that the promotion or facilitation of prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction where it was targeted.
— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) April 11, 2018
(Sec. 4) The bill amends the Communications Act of 1934 to declare that section 230 does not limit: (1) a federal civil claim for conduct that constitutes sex trafficking, (2) a federal criminal charge for conduct that constitutes sex trafficking, or (3) a state criminal charge for conduct that promotes or facilitates prostitution in violation of this bill.
The amendments apply regardless of whether alleged conduct occurs before, on, or after this bill’s enactment.
(Sec. 5) The bill amends the federal criminal code to define a phrase related to the prohibition on sex trafficking. Currently, it a crime to knowingly benefit from participation in a venture that engages in sex trafficking. This bill defines “participation in a venture” to mean knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating a sex trafficking violation.
Note: The author of this article has included commentary that expresses an opinion and analysis of the facts.
(Sec. 6) A state may file a federal civil action to enforce federal sex trafficking violations.
(Sec. 7) This section states that this bill does not limit federal or state civil actions or criminal prosecutions that are not preempted by section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934.
(Sec. 8) The Government Accountability Office must report to Congress on information related to damages and mandatory restitution for aggravated offenses under this bill.