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.”
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.