February 26, 2018

Restoring Rights for Victims of Sex Trafficking

Tomorrow the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a legislative package to fight online sex trafficking. The House will take up H.R. 1865 the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner, along with an amendment sponsored by Rep. Mimi Walters which includes the vital reforms contained in S. 1693 the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), sponsored by Senators Portman, Blumenthal, and McCaskill. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation calls on the U.S. House of Representatives to pass this legislative combo which will restore rights to victims of sex trafficking and empower states Attorneys General to prosecute the kingpins of sex trafficking.

It’s time to restore the rights of victims of sex trafficking rather than protect the kingpins of sexual exploitation.

As it stands, victims have been barred access to the civil courts, while certain Internet companies have been granted what amounts to a right to engage in criminal conduct.

In a tragic series of court cases favoring Backpage, a classified advertising website that facilitates sex trafficking, the courts have interpreted the Communication Decency Act (CDA) to give websites posting third-party content immunity for criminal activity facilitated via their sites and denied victims of sex trafficking the right to sue the companies that facilitated and profited from their exploitation. In other words, there is now a special, elite class of sex traffickers—those who provide the organizational superstructure on which most of modern sex trafficking occurs—who can operate with impunity.

Many of the legal arguments in favor of Backpage have framed the issue as a matter of free speech. Ironically, it’s not the rich and powerful individuals behind these websites who are suffering from a lack of free speech, but the victims of sex trafficking whose voices have been barred from civil courts. The issue here isn’t about restricting free speech, but increasing it.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation calls on U.S. Representatives to pass H.R. 1865 FOSTA (sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner) with the Mimi Walters amendment which will add the vital CDA reforms contained in S. 1693 SESTA (sponsored by Sen. Portman, Blumenthal, and McCaskill). This FOSTA-SESTA combination, will restore victims’ right of civil action, and empower state Attorneys General to prosecute bad corporate actors.

Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives has a historic opportunity to join with survivorsAttorneys General from 48 Statesa state legislaturecelebrities, and advocacy groups from across the country in standing with victims of sex trafficking. We hope they live up to this responsibility.

To learn more about the Communications Decency Act and its role in facilitating online sex trafficking visit endsexualexploitation.org/cda.

Lisa Thompson

Lisa L. Thompson, Vice President of Research and Education, National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Vice President and Director of the NCOSE Research Institute

As Vice President of Research and Education for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Lisa conducts policy analysis and advocacy, advances understanding of pornography’s public health harms, and liaises with public officials, advocates, and academics to advance strategies combating the web of sexual exploitation, including pornography, stripping, prostitution, sexual trafficking, sexual assault, and more.

Lisa joined NCOSE following two years with World Hope International where as Director of Anti-Trafficking, Lisa oversaw sex trafficking recovery programs in Cambodia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Lisa is a contributing author to Hands that Heal: International Curriculum for Caregivers of Trafficking Survivors, as well as the book Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:  Europe Latin America, North America, and Global. Lisa also routinely speaks and trains on sexual exploitation topics for a diverse range of audiences. Lisa served for more than 12 years as the Liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking for The Salvation Army USA National Headquarters.

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