September 17, 2018

STATEMENT: A Warning to Canadian Trade Officials: NAFTA Package Set to Export U.S. Sex Trafficking

Statement by Lisa L. Thompson, Vice President of Policy & Research, NCOSE


Washington, DC – The National Center on Sexual Exploitation calls on Canadian trade negotiators to protect their citizens from a stealthy attempt to decriminalize websites that promote prostitution and facilitate sex trafficking by insisting on removal from NAFTA of language similar to previous wording of Section 230 of the U.S.’s Communications Decency Act (CDA).

“As NAFTA negotiations with Canada resume this week, insiders report that tucked into the digital chapter is language that will export protections for online sex trafficking websites across the North American continent and beyond,” said Lisa L. Thompson, Vice President of Policy and Research for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “If this language is not removed sex trafficking could become the U.S.’s biggest export,” she continued.  

In a letter signed by survivors of sex trafficking, their parents, advocates, and anti-trafficking organizations, including the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, groups have already warned members of the U.S. Congress that language akin to the former provisions of Section 230 of the CDA has been incorporated into the trade deal.

Ironically, in an historic vote in March, Congress passed legislation amending Section 230 of the CDA to clarify that websites knowingly facilitating sex trafficking are not afforded the broad immunity from civil liability and state criminal prosecution that a series of perverse court opinions had granted websites like Backpage.com. The legislative deal known as FOSTA-SESTA was staunchly opposed by groups like Google, the Internet Association, and other major players in the technology sector.

Undaunted by their failure to stop CDA reform in Congress, Big Tech has spearheaded a policy laundering initiative which stealthily incorporates old Section 230-like language into NAFTA. If the old Section 230-like language remains in the trade deal, the tech sector will not only succeed in doing an end run around Congress’ express legislative intent, but also create legal confusion about the enforcement of FOSTA-SESTA in the U.S., and export to Mexico, and potentially Canada, the very de facto immunity that for years shielded the U.S. kingpins of sex trafficking from civil liabilities and state criminal prosecutions.

“I have long thought that the individuals behind Backpage.com and websites like it, were among the world’s most reprehensible individuals,” said Lisa L. Thompson, Vice President of Policy and Research for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “I realize I was being too tough on them. I now save this judgement for those bent on exporting the very language that allowed online platforms profiting from massive sexual exploitation to flourish in the U.S. to neighboring countries.”

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

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