WASHINGTON (BP) — Sex advertising websites and their users would face penalties for sex trafficking under a bill passed by the U.S. House Feb. 27, amending a law that had shielded such offenders. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.
A bipartisan group of 388 legislators passed H.R. 1865, termed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (FOSTA),” to amend Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934. Section 230 had limited the legal liability of interactive computer service providers or users for content they publish that was created by others, according to a summary at Congress.gov.
The House bill would establish monetary fines and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for abusers who use or operate a “facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce or attempts to do so with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.”
Abuses involving aggravated circumstances, such as reckless disregard for the support of sex trafficking or the promotion of prostitution involving at least five persons, could draw 25-year prison terms.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is among nearly 60 supporters of the bill, including nonprofit and for-profit groups from religious, community, government, technology and finance sectors.
“Southern Baptist churches believe human trafficking is particularly heinous because it is an assault on the image of God on every life,” Travis Wussow, ERLC general counsel and vice president for public policy, told Baptist Press Feb. 27. “Currently, America’s modern-day slave markets utilize the internet to traffic the vulnerable. This must stop.”
Bill author Ann Wagner, R-Mo., called out online advertising site Backpage.com when she introduced the bill in April 2017.