A man checks his phone on a dark street (Representing the return of The Erotic Review, an online commercial sex industry website).
May 26, 2020

Online Sexual Exploitation Creeping Back into U.S. Due to Lack of FOSTA-SESTA Enforcement

The passage of FOSTA-SESTA in 2018 was a major legislative victory for survivors of sex trafficking. It gave survivors a route to justice by providing a civil right of action. It also empowered state Attorney Generals to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking. 

Furthermore, its impact on the online commercial sexual exploitation landscape was immediate and profound. Concerned about the fact that FOSTA-SESTA meant they could now be held accountable for facilitating sex trafficking, websites such as Craigslist and Reddit made significant changes within 48 hours of the legislation’s passing. The Erotic Review, a notorious medium for sexual exploitation, shut down its services for U.S. users as well.

The presence of accountability and liability made a difference.

However, since those victories in 2018, there has been little enforcement of FOSTA-SESTA in practice which has resulted in the online commercial sex industry creeping its way back into the United States. 

For example, as of December 2019, The Erotic Review (TER) has re-established its services for users in the United States. Much the same way that the pornography industry boomed after the U.S. Department of Justice ceased enforcement of obscenity law, TER perceived that the U.S. government had little appetite to enforce FOSTA-SESTA and decided it was “safe” to resume its exploitative work. 

ChildSafe.ai framed the news of The Erotic Review’s U.S. return this way: “The return of TER will be this year’s most significant development for the online ecosystems fueling human trafficking in the United States.”

Melanie Thompson explains the importance of FOSTA-SESTA
Sex Trafficking Survivor Melanie Thompson Explains Importance of FOSTA-SESTA

Online platforms like Backpage.com, The Erotic Review, and others make access to sexually exploited individuals far too easy for buyers and far too profitable for traffickers. Their business model is built off the abuse of the exploited. Awareness of the rampant sex trafficking that was occurring on Backpage helped usher in FOSTA-SESTA. It would be a travesty if its effectiveness was undermined by a lack of enforcement. We cannot afford to go back to business as usual. Too many lives are at stake. The world is a darker and more dangerous place for vulnerable populations whenever anyone or any entity is allowed to profit off of the sale of human beings. 

In the midst of all this, some brave survivors have been working hard to utilize FOSTA-SESTA to combat sexual exploitation. Several women represented by Annie McAdams in Texas recently had a victory against Facebook thanks to FOSTA-SESTA. There are also survivors in Washington and California — represented by Erik Bauer, law firm Levin Papantonio, and other great attorneys — who have filed suit against Craigslist. These types of efforts are trailblazing when it comes to using FOSTA-SESTA to fight back against sexual exploitation and, as such, we hope to see more join the fight. There needs to be more movement in the push back against the monolith that is the commercial sex industry and all those who facilitate it and profit from it.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center sees itself as a catalyst for these types of lawsuits and wants to match survivors who have viable claims with the excellent law firms in our network. 

If you believe you have been harmed or exploited online and wish to seek legal action, please contact us so that we can refer you to an excellent attorney. If you are a law firm interested in this type of litigation, or believe you have a client with a FOSTA-SESTA-related claim but have questions about the law, please contact us. We are here to help!

FOSTA-SESTA is an excellent tool and hopefully the beginning of a broader change sees facilitators of illegal activity and online sexual exploitation held accountable.

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Dani Pinter, Esq.

Senior Legal Counsel for the NCOSE Law Center

Dani Pinter, Esq. serves as Legal Counsel for NCOSE and its Law Center. In this role, she drafts and consults on state legislation to help unravel the complex web of sexual exploitation. Dani also serves as a voice for human dignity in precedent-setting legal cases by authoring legal briefs and providing research and advice to attorneys and will launch litigation on behalf of victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Dani speaks regularly on a variety of exploitation topics, with a special focus protecting youth in a digital age and on legal solutions to curb the demand for prostituted and sex trafficked individuals.

Dani Pinter originally joined the NCOSE Law Center at its inception in August of 2015. Dani was instrumental in reinvigorating the law center and traveled the country building relationships and raising awareness. Notably, she drafted the first piece of legislation recognizing the public health impacts of  pornography. This innovative piece of legislation has since been adopted in more than a dozen states. Dani also authored a key legal brief in a case involving a child predator who claimed a constitutional right to find children online and talk to them about sex in an arousing and exploitive manner. Her legal brief helped convince the Georgia Supreme Court to rule against the child predator and shut down the agenda of pro-child exploitation forces to go state by state trying to toss out such laws.

In 2016. Dani moved back to her home state of Florida to start a family and there joined the State of Florida’s Department of Children and Families as a Senior Attorney in Children’s Legal Services. In that role, Dani litigated cases involving child abuse, abandonment, and neglect. She worked tirelessly to serve the children and families in need in her home state. During this time, Dani saw first-hand the devastation that sexual abuse inflicts on children and families and the cycle of abuse and trauma it creates.

Throughout her time with Children’s Legal Services, Dani brought the knowledge she gained from NCOSE to every one of her cases. She could not help but note the policy changes and education that were needed in this field. So, when an opportunity to work with NCOSE again arose – Dani seized it without hesitation. Dani rejoined the NCOSE law center in 2019 as Legal Counsel.

Dani has always had a passion for human rights issues especially those affecting women and children. This passion is what led her to Regent University School of Law. Upon acceptance, Dani received the Wilberforce Award, a full academic scholarship for those with human rights interests. While at Regent, Dani was in the Honors Program, a member of the Moot Court Board, the Journal of Global Justice and Public Policy, and the Student Bar Association. During her studies Dani interned with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Prior to law school Dani worked as a government relations intern for multiple DC policy organizations and graduated from the University of Central Florida with dual degrees in Psychology and Marketing.

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