Year of Youth 2018

New US Law Aims to Prosecute Websites that Facilitate Sex Trafficking

Last edited 13th April 2018

New US Law Aims to Prosecute Websites that Facilitate Sex Trafficking

A new law aims to make it easier to prosecute websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, such as Backpage.com.

President Donald Trump signed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” into law April 11.

Under the new law, the government will be able to prosecute the owners or operators of websites which knowingly assist, support, or facilitate “the prostitution of another person,” or who act with reckless disregard for the fact that their conduct contributed to sex trafficking. Users and victims will be able to sue those sites.

The new law clarifies that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which previously protected the operators of websites from legal liability for content posted by third parties, cannot be used as a defense to shield sites that knowingly promote sex trafficking and prostitution.

“[Section 230] was never 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,” the law reads.

Before the bill became law, federal authorities on April 6 seized Backpage, a massive classified ad site used largely for selling sex, which hosted ads depicting the prostitution of children. Ads posted on the site, which took in an estimated $135 million in annual revenue in 2014, were reportedly responsible for nearly three quarters of all cases submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The site was the subject of an extensive Senate report into its practices of promoting prostitution and the trafficking of minors, which was released in January 2017.

The Department of Justice on April 9 announced the charging of seven individuals, including Backpage’s founder Michael Lacey, in a 93-count federal indictment which detailed the site’s reported practices of facilitating prostitution and money laundering. The indictment alleges that the defendants knew that the majority of the website’s “adult” ads involved prostitution, and that the site would “sanitize” the ads by removing “terms and pictures that were particularly indicative of prostitution” but continuing to run the ads.

Backpage also allegedly had a policy for several years that involved deleting words in an ad denoting a child’s age, and publish the revised version, which created a “veneer of deniability” for those trafficking the children.

“This website will no longer serve as a platform for human traffickers to thrive, and those who were complicit in its use to exploit human beings for monetary gain will be held accountable for their heinous actions,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a release from the DOJ. “Whether on the street or on the Internet, sex trafficking will not be tolerated.”

Article originally published on Catholic News Agency


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