Portman, Blumenthal, McCain, McCaskill, Cornyn, Heitkamp Praise Senate Passage of Bipartisan Bill to Help Stop Online Sex Trafficking

March 21, 2018 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) praised the Senate for passing the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) – by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 97-2 – as part of a broader House effort to help stop online sex trafficking and provide justice for victims.  The bill is now ready to be sent to the president’s desk for his signature:

“Today’s vote is a victory for trafficking survivors and a victory for our efforts to help stop the selling of women and children online,” said Senator Portman.  “No one thought that we could get this done, but with the commitment of an overwhelming group of bipartisan colleagues and a broad-based coalition of support, we were able to pass legislation that will ensure justice for trafficking victims and help us combat this evil crime.  I’d like to thank Senators Thune, Blumenthal, McCain, McCaskill, Cornyn, and Heitkamp for their leadership and hard work on this effort.  I look forward to seeing President Trump sign this bill into law.”

“Today’s vote is a victory for the brave survivors of online sex trafficking, their families, and the advocates who never gave up in their pursuit of justice,” said Senator Blumenthal.  “Along the way, there were many who told us that we could never pass this legislation because its opponents were too big and too entrenched. They said the sex trafficking survivors were too powerless and too invisible. Well, we’ve met those survivors, and we know their courage and strength – they are the reason that we are here today.”

“The Senate’s passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act marks an important step forward for providing victims of sex trafficking the justice they deserve,” said Senator McCain.  “This bill includes long-overdue changes to current law that has for too long protected websites like Backpage from being held accountable for knowingly facilitating these horrific crimes. I want to commend Chairman Portman for leading this important effort and bringing together senators from across the aisle to combat human trafficking. I also want to thank my wife Cindy, who has long dedicated her time and energy to raising awareness, supporting victims, and devising solutions to end the victimization and exploitation of the most innocent among us. We have a long way to go to end human trafficking in the United States and around the world, and I hope Congress will build on today’s important achievement to stop the sale of women and children.”

“For far too long, bad actors like Backpage hid behind an outdated law that allowed them to knowingly facilitate sex trafficking of children online—but that ends today,” said Senator McCaskill.  “We took on a powerful company that stonewalled us at every turn. We took them all the way to the Supreme Court and won. We armed local prosecutors with the damning evidence to prosecute them. But ensuring survivors get the justice they deserve, and stopping the next Backpage before any website can claim another victim—that’s what this landmark, bipartisan legislation does. I’m really proud to stand with my colleagues across the aisle, and with Missouri victims, advocates, and law enforcement to carry this across the finish line today.”

“For too long our laws have shielded sex traffickers, denied justice to victims, and hamstrung law enforcement’s ability to prosecute wrongdoers,” said Senator Cornyn. “I applaud my colleagues for getting this bipartisan legislation over the finish line and onto the President’s desk to provide well-deserved justice for survivors.”

“The role of the internet in selling children for sex is an egregious problem we noticed while investigating human trafficking in North Dakota. Websites like Backpage.com shouldn’t be allowed to shamefully hide behind the First Amendment to promote and profit from modern day slavery, and they must be held accountable, alongside the perpetrators,” said Senator Heitkamp. “Our bipartisan bill would help prevent the horrific abuse of enslaved men, women, and children permitted by these sites. Today marks a crucial step in the effort to seek justice against these websites and to empower state law enforcement to confront those who callously violate federal trafficking laws. I hope the president swiftly signs this legislation into law, so that we can continue to be vigilant in shielding children in North Dakota and across the country from the misery of sex trafficking.”

NOTE: The legislation is the result of a two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) inquiry, led by Senators Portman and McCaskill, which culminated in a report entitled “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” which found that Backpage.com knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits.  The bill is supported by trafficking survivors, anti-human trafficking advocates and law enforcement50 Attorneys General, the civil rights communityfaith-based groups, the larger tech community, and courts and judges who have made clear that it is Congress’ responsibility to act to protect sex trafficking victims.