Despite Sen. Kamala Harris’s crusade against outlets that allow advertisements for underage trafficking, the California Democrat has resisted publicly commenting or signing onto bipartisan legislation that would allow families of victims and states to sue Backpage.com and other websites.
Harris, while serving as California’s attorney general, condemned Backpage.com as “the world’s top online brothel“ in 2016, bringing pimping and other charges against the website, which she and other lawmakers have accused of knowingly facilitating child sex trafficking.
Harris made fighting sex-trafficking one of her signature issues during her campaign for Senate last year, and she has long targeted Backpage.com as a main culprit. She signed a letter with 46 other state attorneys general in 2013 calling on Congress to give states the ability to sue Backpage.com and any other websites that allegedly knowingly advertised for and profited from the sex trafficking.
However, Harris’s bid to “be a power broker has her walking a delicate political tightrope” on the sex-trafficking issue and a bill to combat it, McClatchy recently reported.
The bill, known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), would bring about some of the very changes to the law Harris asked Congress to impose when she was attorney general.
The bipartisan legislation, authored by Sens. Rob Portman, (R., Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal, (D., Conn.) has 34 senate cosponsors across the political spectrum, including 11 Democrats.
Those formally backing the bill include GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah on the right, and Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois on the left.
Harris, on the other hand, has yet to announce support for, or opposition to, the bill.
“Anyone who has her visibility on an issue such as Backpage.com and is not signed onto the bill—people are just puzzled, and it doesn’t look good for her,” Lisa Thompson, vice president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Thompson, Court, and other proponents of the bill say they believe Harris is now working to try to write amendments to find some middle ground, although they have yet to see the details.
The activists are concerned about any effort to water down the Senate bill, which they say is already weaker than the House version.
“We don’t want a toothless bill—we don’t want the tech sector to be exerting enough influence to defang the bill,” she said. “That’s the concern.”