April 3, 2017

Newly Introduced Legislation Could Radically Decrease Online Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking and prostitution have extended online. It’s time for our laws to do the same.

Congresswoman Ann Wagner (MO) introduced an important bipartisan bill today to lift barriers that have been impeding efforts to seek justice against online facilitators of sex trafficking.

This bill would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Unfortunately, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has been wildly misinterpreted by courts to effectively grant immunity to websites like Backpage.com.

Backpage.com is a commonly purported facilitator of sex trafficking:

  • In 2011, 51 state Attorneys General (including Guam and American Samoa), signed a letter explaining that many cases of sexual trafficking involving children are directly related to the posting of ads on Backpage.com.
  • In October 2016, as a result of a three-year investigation spearheaded by the California Attorney General’s office, authorities in Texas arrested Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping related to its website though he was not convicted.
  • And the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has stated: “NCMEC knows that the primary way children are sold for sex in this country is through the use of online classified advertising websites, such as Backpage.com.”

Yet still, this website it being protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

We must hold companies accountable when their business model is based on facilitating the sale of women, men, and children for sex.

The original purpose of the CDA was to protect children from exposure to Internet pornography.  Section 230 was added to the CDA to protect Internet companies from being held responsible for content generated independently by third-party users. The CDA, except for Section 230, was found to be unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court. Ironically, without the original context of the law, Section 230 of the CDA has now been held by courts to shield facilitators of child and adult sexual trafficking.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation calls on Congress to swiftly pass the Wagner bill, which would remove immunities from sex trafficking websites. It’s time for Congress to stand with the victims of sex trafficking, not the tech companies that want blanket immunity for sex trafficking or prostitution occurring on their platforms.

NCOSE recently constructed the Freedom from Sexploitation Agenda—16 concrete policy suggestions for Congress and the executive branch to combat various forms of sexual exploitation. Amending the CDA is NCOSE’s top recommendation.

Backpage.com is a member of NCOSE’s 2017 Dirty Dozen List due to its history of facilitating and profiting from sexual exploitation. You can learn more at http://endsexualexploitation.org/backpage/.

Haley Halverson

Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach

Haley Halverson is the Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation where she develops and executes national campaigns to change policies and raise awareness. Haley regularly speaks and writes on topics including child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, prostitution, sexual objectification, the exploitation of males, and more. She has presented before officials at the United Nations, as well as at several national symposia before influencers from the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Croation government officials. She is the host of the “Sexploitation?” podcast and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts at Johns Hopkins University.

Previously, Haley served for two years as Director of Communications for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation where she oversaw strategic messaging development, press outreach, email marketing, and social media marketing.

Prior to working at NCOSE, Haley wrote for Media Research Center. Haley graduated from Hillsdale College (summa cum laude) with a double major, and conducted a senior thesis on the abolitionist argument regarding prostitution. During her studies, she studied abroad at Oxford University and established a background in policy research through several internship experiences in the DC area.

Haley has appeared on, or been quoted in, several outlets including the New York Post, USA Today, BBC News, Fox News, the Washington Post, Voice of America, Dr. Drew Midday Live, The DeMaio Report, the New York Daily News, the Washington Examiner, USA Radio Network, the Washington Times, CBC News, The Rod Arquette Show, The Detroit News, Lifezette, The Christian Post, Lifeline with Neil Boron, EWTN News Nightly, KCBS San Francisco Radio, LifeSiteNews, The Drew Mariano Show on Relevant Radio, News Talk KGVO, and American Family News.

She has written op-eds for the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Townhall.com, Darling Magazine, the Daytona-Beach News Journal, and has published a paper in the journal Dignity: A Journal on Sexual Exploitation and Violence.

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