The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation Wednesday targeting websites that facilitate sex trafficking. U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) applauded the bill that was approved by the Senate 97 to 2.
The legislation included the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (SESTA), cosponsored by Barrasso. Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 27, 2018 by a vote of 388-25.
“Human traffickers are actively using the internet and cell phones to exploit children,” Barrasso said. “We have to stop it. The bill we passed will help hold accountable websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. Their victims will soon be able to seek the justice they deserve, and future exploitation can be stopped.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported an 846 percent increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking from 2010 to 2015 – a spike the organization found to be “directly correlated to the increased use of the internet to sell children for sex.”
Due to outdated and incomplete laws, courts around the country have ruled that trafficking websites like Backpage.com could continue to knowingly promote illegal sex trafficking online with no repercussions. In January 2017, after an 18-month investigation, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) issued a report which found that Backpage actively and knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls, and covered up evidence of these crimes to increase profits.
In 2000, Congress put in place criminal penalties to guard against sex trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. However, court rulings have made it clear that Congress must also act to amend the Communications Decency Act to hold those who run sites that facilitate sex trafficking civilly and criminally accountable. That’s what SESTA does.
SESTA amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that was never intended to protect websites that facilitate sex trafficking. The bill clarifies Section 230 and ensures that websites that facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable and that victims can get justice.