Within 48 hours of the U.S. Senate’s passage of legislation combating online sex trafficking, several websites have shuttered their prostitution ads. The historic legislation passed the Senate in a landslide 97-2 vote on Wednesday. H.R. 1865 was a legislative package that combined the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner, with an amendment incorporating reforms contained in S. 1693 the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), sponsored by Senators Portman and Blumenthal. The legislative duo takes direct aim at websites that facilitate and profit from prostitution and sex trafficking by amending both the Communications Decency Act and Mann Act.
The handwriting is on the wall. Thanks to FOSTA-SESTA, it’s no longer business as usual for the kingpins of sex trafficking.
The swift actions taken by websites such as Craigslist, Reddit, Cityvibe, and Erotic Review to shut down their U.S. prostitution ads is indicative of the major role Internet companies play in promoting prostitution and sex trafficking. Moreover, it’s proof of FOSTA-SESTA’s power to hold them legally responsible for facilitating these criminal activities.
Prior to FOSTA-SESTA, websites were shielded from criminal liability even if they knowingly engaged in criminal conduct. This impunity from the law resulted in mass sexploitation. In Seattle alone, law enforcement officials have identified more than 130 websites where people—many of whom are sexually trafficked women and children—are bought and sold for sex.
As ‘businesses’ that help arrange prostitution transactions and which derive earnings from them, there can be no doubt that their executives and owners are the functional equivalents of sex traffickers (a.k.a. pimps). These businesses and their owners represent corporatized sex traffickers, who until last Wednesday were a protected class of criminals.
Now, even before the bill has been signed into law, we can see that the era of tolerance and immunity for online sexual exploitation and sex trafficking coming to a close. This is as great a moment in the fight to free our country from sexual exploitation, as the Emancipation Proclamation was in ending the scourge of slavery.
To learn more about the Communications Decency Act and its role in facilitating online sex trafficking visit endsexualexploitation.org/cda.