Classified advertising websites are making it as easy as ordering a pizza to order human beings for sex from the privacy of one’s home, office, hotel room, or cell phone. Many of those bought and sold on such websites are sexually trafficked children and adults. One such website,, facilitates this activity by editing ads to conceal the illegality of underlying criminal activity.

Despite investigations by the U.S. Congress and several court cases, websites like are getting away with their role in facilitating sex trafficking. Why? Because of an outdated law that is shielding them from justice. That law is the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Most of the CDA was struck down by the Supreme Court years ago, but Section 230 remains and unfortunately, it is being interpreted by the courts to give Backpage immunity for facilitating online sex trafficking. For this reason the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), along with survivors, anti-trafficking advocates, law enforcement officials, and concerned citizens are calling on the U.S. Congress to amend the CDA.

Legislative Update

On February 27, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed historic legislation to amend the CDA by a vote of 388 to 25.  This package included H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner, and an amendment offered by Rep. Mimi Walters which added in the language of S. 1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). SESTA, sponsored by Senators Portman, Blumenthal, and McCaskill, makes the vital CDA changes we’ve been asking for. Without the Walters amendment, the long sought-after changes to the CDA would not have been included since these provisions had been previously gutted from FOSTA by the House Judiciary Committee. With this legislation combo, key alterations to the CDA are made: the right to pursue civil rights of action is restored to sex trafficking victims and state Attorneys General are empowered to bring prosecutions against bad actors.

Now that FOSTA, with the Walters’ SESTA amendment, has been passed by the House, the push to amend the CDA moves to the Senate. Please sign up for NCOSE emails and check this webpage for updates on this process.

This is the most important anti-trafficking legislation in a generation. If you care about stopping sex trafficking there is no single legal reform that is more vital than amending the Communications Decency Act now! Please join us in calling on the Senate to #ListenToSurvivors, and not protect the kingpins of sex trafficking!

Talking Points

In the digital age, sex trafficking of children and adults flourishes online. Why? In large part because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) has been interpreted by federal and state courts to 1): prevent sex trafficking victims from suing websites that advertised them as for sale under either state or federal laws, and 2): prevent states from enforcing criminal laws against websites that carry ads for sex trafficking.

Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) in the early days of the Internet to protect children from online exposure to indecent content. In Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997), the Supreme Court struck down the Internet indecency provisions of the CDA but did not strike down the provisions that became 47 USC 230.

47 USC 230 was enacted in response to two court cases. In Cubby, Inc. v. CompuServe, Inc., 776 F. Supp. 135 (S.D.N.Y. 1991), CompuServe’s motion for a summary judgment was granted because the court determined that CompuServe was a distributor and not a publisher of libelous comments posted on a “computerized database” and because it had not been shown that CompuServe knew or should have known of the libelous comments. In Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Services Co., 1995 WL 323710 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1995), the court granted plaintiffs motion for partial summary judgement after determining that Prodigy was a publisher of libelous comments posted on its computer bulletin board because Prodigy had held itself out to the public and its members as controlling content and had implemented this control through its software screening program and “Guidelines” which “Board Leaders” were required to enforce.

The import of these court decisions was clear: if an online service did little or nothing to curb defamatory content, it would not be held liable; if it tried to curb such content it could be liable.

In response to Stratton Oakmont, Representatives Chris Cox (R-CA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced an amendment to the CDA which became 47 USC 230. Subsection 230(c)(1) states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

What (c)(1) does not say is that no provider or user of an interactive computer service may be treated as a distributor of information provided by another, but that is how most courts interpreted it. For a good argument that 230(c)(1) was not intended to eliminate the difference between distributors and publishers, see Barrett v. Rosenthal, 114 Cal.App.4th 1379 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004).

Congress provided additional protection for providers and users of an interactive computer services in 230(c)(2)(A) by ensuring that no provider or user is held civilly liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of objectionable material. The efforts of Prodigy when owned by IBM and Sears to make its service family friendly is a good place to begin to determine what is a good faith effort.

Furthermore, 230(c) is entitle “Protection for ‘Good Samaritan’ Blocking and Screening of Offensive Material;” and Subsection (c) is part of a law (47 U.S.C. 230) which was intended to provide “Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material.”

How then did a law intended to protect providers or users of interactive computer services who act voluntarily and in good faith to restrict access to or availability of objectionable material become a protection against civil liability for those who accept payment to carry ads for sex trafficking knowing or having reason to know the ads are for sex trafficking? Surely this was not the intent of members of Congress who voted to add Section 230 to Title 47.

Subsection 230(e)(3) makes clear that States cannot in a civil action treat a provider or user of an interactive computer service as the publisher or speaker of information provided by another and cannot hold a provider or user civilly liable on account of action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of objectionable material. But 230(e)(3) was not intended to prevent a State from criminally prosecuting a provider or user for facilitating sex trafficking, since such providers/users are not acting in good faith.

In a letter to members of Congress dated August 16, 2017 and signed by Attorneys General from 48 states, the National Association of Attorneys General had this to say:

In 2013, Attorneys General from 49 states and territories wrote to Congress, informing it that some courts have interpreted the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”) to render state and local authorities unable to take action against companies that actively profit from the promotion and facilitation of sex trafficking and crimes against children… The undersigned Attorneys General once again respectfully request… Congress amend the CDA to affirm that state, territorial, and local authorities retain their traditional jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute those who facilitate illicit acts. . . .

. . . is facilitating—and profiting from—these illegal activities. However, certain interpretations of the CDA have resulted in companies like remaining outside the reach of state and local law enforcement …We do not believe that was Congress’s intent in passing the CDA, and . . . do not believe that is Congress’s intent now. . . .

Federal enforcement alone has proved insufficient to stem the growth in online promotion of child sex trafficking. Those on the front lines of the battle against the sexual exploitation of children—state and local law enforcement—must have the clear authority to investigate and prosecute facilitators of these and other horrible crimes. . . .

In 2017, two bills were introduced in Congress (S. 1693 and H.R. 1865) to amend 47 USC 230.  While NCOSE has reservations about the language of these bills and hopes improvements will be made during the legislative process, we laud the bill’s sponsors and support their efforts.

Unfortunately, some in the technology community, including Google, are fighting any changes to Section 230–even if the changes would lead to a drastic reduction in online sex trafficking.

Google has blitzed congressional offices with this email asking your Senators and Representatives to oppose S. 1693 and H.R. 1865. For Google and other tech industry titans, corporate profits are more important than the lives of children and adults who are victims of online sex trafficking.

A coalition of groups headed by Consumer Watchdog recently released a report, entitled How Google’s Backing of Backpage Protects Child Sex Trafficking, which states in part, “An analysis of public records, tax documents and legal filings and other publicly-available documents shows Google has financed and supported a broad array of groups and individuals who have fought aggressively to thwart legal challenges to Backpage’s business model.”

Moreover, a Harvard professor alleges that Google earned over a billion dollars in revenue from unlawful advertising that Google failed to block, which included ads for child sex trafficking.

Reportedly, lobbyists for Google also helped eliminate a version of a bill that would have required firms to determine the age of people appearing in their online adult ads.

As if this isn’t bad enough, a recent news report now suggests that Internet companies are even seeking to incorporate language similar to Section 230 of the CDA into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would extend the hedge of protection for websites that facilitate sex trafficking across the North American continent. brings the seedy street corners of America’s red-light districts to home computers. A classified advertising website known as “the hub” for prostitution advertising, serves as a virtual auction block where sex buyers can shop for human beings for sex from the privacy of their home, office, hotel room, or cell phone. Many of those bought and sold via the website are sexually trafficked women and children. The website facilitates this activity by editing ads to conceal the illegality of underlying criminal activity.

See NCOSE’s Web Page With More Details About Backpage

For years, a quick scan of the “adult services” section on revealed dozens of pornographic photos used as advertisements promoting the buying and selling of women and children for sex in cities across the country. The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children has reported that 73% of all child sex trafficking cases its handled involved With operations in 97 countries and 943 locations worldwide, Backpage is likely the largest facilitator of sex trafficking in the world.

Backpage has come under tough scrutiny from activists and law enforcement officials in the U.S. for serving as the platform for the open buying and selling of human beings for sex. One prominent example is this letter from 51 state Attorneys General (including Guam and American Samoa), explaining that many cases of sexual trafficking involving children are directly related to the posting of ads on

In October 2016, as a result of a three-year investigation spearheaded by the California Attorney General’s office, authorities in Texas arrested CEO Carl Ferrer on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. Controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin were also charged with conspiracy to commit pimping. A judge later threw out the case, but in December 2016, California’s Attorney General announced new charges including 13 counts of pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping, and 26 counts of money laundering against the men.

The California Attorney General’s office reported that during the period of January 2013 to March 2015, 99% of Backpage’s worldwide income was directly attributable to its ads selling people for sex. With sites in cities around the world, Backpage ads in California alone are reported to have generated $2.5 million per month and more than $51 million during the 29-month period. Additionally, Ferrer created similar sites such as and with related content to expand the company’s market share of the sexual exploitation industry.

Concurrently, has been under investigation by members of the U.S. Congress. During this process Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer refused to comply with a subpoena to appear before the U.S. Senate. As a result, Ferrer was issued the first civil contempt action authorized by the Senate in more than twenty years.

On January 9, 2017, “blocked” its prostitution advertising in America. Its prostitution advertising pages now greet visitors with the message: “The government has unconstitutionally censored this content.” This change occurred the night before Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and founders, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were scheduled to testify to the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in their investigation into sex trafficking occurring via their website. At the hearing, Backpage executives refused to testify.

The public should not fall for Backpage’s theatrical attempt to portray itself as the victim of government persecution or censorship. The only people under attack are those used as human fodder in Backpage’s gristmill of sexual exploitation. While Backpage likes to wrap itself in the First Amendment, free speech is not a license to orchestrate sexual exploitation. Moreover, the prostitution advertising occurring on simply migrated to other sections of the website.

On January 9, 2017, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued its report entitled, “’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” For nearly two years the Committee investigated Backpage’s involvement with sex trafficking, and found that, “The internal company documents obtained by the Subcommittee conclusively show that Backpage’s public defense is a fiction.”

Among the report’s finding is evidence that Backpage knowingly concealed evidence of criminality by systematically editing prostitution ads. Using a special filter, terms indicative of sexual exploitation, such as Lolitateenagerapeyoungamber alertlittle girlteenfreshinnocent, and school girl, were deleted from prostitution ads. The report also stated that the company was editing 70 to 80% of ads in the adult (i.e., prostitution) section.

Nevertheless, Backpage executives have thus far escaped criminal conviction and civil liabilities for their role in sex trafficking due to a provision in the Communication Decency Act (CDA) known as Section 230. Congress passed the CDA in 1996 with the intent of protecting children from Internet pornography. Much of this law was later overturned by the Supreme Court, but Section 230 still stands.

Several survivors of sex trafficking have pursued courts cases against for its role in facilitating their sexual exploitation, but their cases have been dismissed as courts have consistently misinterpreted the very plain meaning of Section 230. The actual, plain meaning of the CDA offers interactive computer service providers (ICSPs) (e.g., a limited defense to civil suits not derived from criminal actions. However, the courts have consistently chosen to ignore the plain language of the CDA, misinterpret phrases they claim to be ambiguous, thereby offering ICSPs complete immunity from all criminal and civil liability.

The result is a lawless Internet. Crimes that are not permissible offline are allowed to flourish as long as they are facilitated via the Internet. People operating as pimps are allowed to continue their role as organizers of sexual exploitation as long as they do so behind the veil of an ICSP.

Therefore, we call on the U.S. Congress to take swift and strong action to amend the CDA so that ICSPs not acting in good faith no longer have de facto immunity for facilitating egregious sex exploitation on a global scale.


2017 Dirty Dozen:

This is not a complete list of supporting organizations, however it shows the breadth and depth of groups speaking out about this need. We will try to update this regularly.

National District Attorneys Association;
National Association of Police Organizations;
Major Cities Chiefs Association;
Fraternal Order of Police;
National Organization for Victim Assistance;
National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE);
WIFLE Foundation Inc. (Women in Federal Law Enforcement);
Consumer Watchdog;
National Center on Sexual Exploitation;
Exodus Cry;
Shared Hope International;
Coalition Against Trafficking In Women;
Legal Momentum;
Demand Abolition;
FAIR Girls;
Missouri Police Chiefs Association;
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley;
Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys;
St. Louis Police Officers Association;
Airline Ambassadors International;
Courtney’s House;
The Covering House;
Missouri KidsFirst;
Missouri Juvenile Justice Association;
Faith & Freedom Coalition;
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention;
Focus on the Family;
Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation-CATE;
Friends Committee on National Legislation;
Faith & Action in the Nation’s Capital;
Cornerstones of Care;
Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police;
Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM);
Crisis Aid International;
Ambassador Swanee Hunt;
Concerned Women for America;
National Organization for Women;
NEST Foundation;
Skagit County Coalition Against Trafficking;
Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence;
Eastern NC Stop Human Trafficking Now;
Foundation for a Slavery Free World;
Church of Scientology;
She is Rising;
Innocents at Risk;
Saving Innocence;
Artists for Human Rights;
Enough is Enough;
Redeeming Joy

A: Free speech is not a license to facilitate or commit criminal acts. Historically we’ve seen this affirmed by the courts over and over again, for example in cases of blackmail (e.g., “Pay me $5,000 or I’ll burn your house down) or defamation (i.e., laws which protect people from untrue claims). In other words, freedom of speech is not an absolute right, but like other liberties is constrained from on infringing on the safety and well-being of the general public (e.g., yelling “Fire!” in a public venue when there is no fire).

A: The status quo is unacceptable. Tragically, US federal courts have actually interpreted the CDA to give sweeping immunity to, a website with a business model built on sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Web-based businesses have an ethical responsibility to ensure they operate within the confines of the law. Similar to a brick and mortar store owner that knowingly allows sex trafficking to occur on its premises, websites that knowingly (or with reckless disregard) facilitate sex trafficking and prostitution cannot be given broad immunity that absolves them from any responsibility. Websites that conduct due diligence to keep sexual exploitation off of their platforms will not be threatened by an amendment to the CDA, any more than a store owner operating in good conscience will be threatened by laws against illegal business practices.

Further, it’s important to note that websites are companies or owned-platforms that do not shoulder a burden to display every post or form of speech. Websites all around the world constantly make editorial decisions about what kind of content they want on their site—and they are not guilty of “censoring free speech” when they remove unwanted content from their platforms.

A: This is a specious argument because Internet companies are in the advertising/data mining business. Thus, constant and meticulous monitoring of third-party content is actually their business model.

Additionally, the technology industry has made dramatic innovations in the past several years in the application of algorithms, blocking, and filtering. While some large platforms may not be able to monitor every third-party post, they can institute algorithms, filtering, and moderation practices that will catch a large portion of content facilitating sex trafficking. They can also improve by responding quickly and effectively to any reports of suspected commercial sexual exploitation on their site. Such efforts are the markers of corporations acting in “good faith.” The safe harbor accorded to websites which “filter in good faith” will remain and be protective of content-neutral sites. The proposed amendments to the Communications Decency Act specifically target bad actors who are engaged in the crime of sex trafficking.


Stop Trafficking Online – Fix the Law!

Thank You Oracle For Opposing Online Sex Trafficking

Watch & Share Film: I Am Jane Doe

This intense documentary follows real cases of American girls enslaved in the child sex trade through ads in a newspaper’s online classified section.

Watch on Netflix here.

Film’s Website

Take Action Against Backpage, #1 seller of people for sex online brings the seedy street corners of America’s red-light districts to home computers. A classified advertising website known as “the hub” for prostitution advertising, serves as a virtual auction block where sex buyers can shop for human beings for sex from the privacy of their home, office, hotel room, or cell phone. Many of those bought and sold via the website are sexually trafficked women and children. The website facilitates this activity by editing ads to conceal the illegality of underlying criminal activity.



Does #MeToo Have the Power to Bring Down Corporatized Sex Trafficking?

Pending Senate Vote on CDA a Critical Test of Movement’s Power While it may feel like old news now, the revelations about sexual harassment and abuse perpetrated against dozens of women by Harvey Weinstein have had important and far-reaching ripple effects. Suddenly, an ocean of women’s narratives about sexual injustice and abuse long held back […]

TAKE ACTION: Tell the Senate to Pass #FOSTA-#SESTA

It is absolutely essential that the United States Senate pass H.R. 1865, FOSTA-SESTA, the week of March 12 to amend the Communications Decency Act Section 230. Why now?  The House passed this bill February 28, and it’s the most monumental reform to fight sex trafficking in decades. But Senators, with pressure from outside opposition, can […]

A Giant Step Closer to Restoring Rights for Victims of Online Sex Trafficking

Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed an historic legislative package to fight online sex trafficking, by a vote of 388 to 25. The legislation included H.R. 1865 the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner, and an amendment sponsored by Rep. Mimi Walters which incorporated the vital reforms contained in […]

102 Organizations and Advocates Wrote to the House of Representatives’ Leaders In Support of Legislation to Fight Online Sex Trafficking

The letter below, authored by Yasmin Vafa of Rights4Girls, was sent to the Honorable Paul Ryan and the Honorable Nancy Pelosi on February 26, 2018, in support of H.R. 1865 to fight online sex trafficking. You can download the PDF version here. Dear Mr. Speaker and Leader Pelosi: As organizations and leaders in the movement to […]

The Communications Decency Act: Immunity for Internet-Facilitated Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Haley Halverson, Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, published an article in the University of Rhode Island’s Dignity Journal that explains why Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act must be amended.   This paper reviews the original intent and historical application of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), most notably […]

backpage sex trafficking

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 […]

Kentucky State Legislators Call on Congress to Amend CDA

Today Kentucky’s House of Representatives unanimously signaled to the U.S. Congress that it is time to stem the burgeoning growth of online sex trafficking by amending the Communications Decency Act (CDA). In an 83-0 vote, Kentucky’s legislature passed a resolution sending the unequivocal message to Congress that all those who facilitate sex trafficking must be held accountable—including […]

New Momentum on House Efforts to Tackle Online Sex Trafficking

Next week, the House is expected to vote on legislation introduced by Rep. Ann Wagner, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (H.R. 1865), or FOSTA, which will be amended with language from the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (S. 1693), SESTA. That deal combines H.R. 1865 FOSTA, legislation sponsored by Rep Ann […]

sex trafficking modern-day slavery


NCOSE Hosts Congressional Briefing on Amending CDA Section 230

Haley Halverson Joins EWTN to Discuss Amending the CDA

Mary Mazzio Interview: Google’s Opposition to Anti-Trafficking Bill

Voices of Survivors on Amending Section 230 of the CDA

How Google backs Backpage Sex-Trafficking, Press Conference Pt. 1

Asking about I AM JANE DOE at Google Shareholder Meeting

Amend the Communications Decency Act to Give Access to Justice to Victims of Sex Trafficking – Sam Vardaman, Shared Hope Intl.

Sen. Portman Highlights Backpage Hearing on Senate Floor

Sen. Heitkamp Speaks about Backpage & CDA

Testimony of Yiota Souras from NCMEC RE Backpage

Documentary Trailer for I am Jane Doe

John Simpson at Consumer Watchdog

Innovative Legal Solutions to Combat the Rise of Sexual Exploitation – Savanah Lawrence, NCOSE


Use these graphics and articles to spread the word about this issue! #AmendtheCDA

letter hr 1865 house
online trafficking
Sen. Rob Portman on SESTA
Protest Letter of Hearing on CDA Excluding Survivors
proof-google-tech-cda (1)
Google lobbyist backpage sex trafficking
Google sex trafficking backpage