Portman Statement on DOJ Actions Against Backpage

April 6, 2018 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) today praised the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for taking action against Backpage.com, the market leader in commercial-sex advertising that has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including trafficking of children.  The Senate recently passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act(SESTA) by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 97-2 as part of a broader congressional effort to help stop online sex trafficking and provide justice for victims.  The bill is expected to be signed into law next week.  Portman issued the following statement:

“The Department of Justice’s action against Backpage is good news for victims and survivors of online sex trafficking.  While this action is long overdue, it is a positive step forward in our efforts to hold accountable sex traffickers that sell women and children online.  The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, found that Backpage knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and children, coached traffickers on how to evade justice, and covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits.  PSI’s investigation played a significant role in uncovering the truth about this website’s criminal conduct and helped advise the Senate on crafting a narrow legislative solution.  The new evidence we fought so hard to uncover was handed over to the Department of Justice following our investigation more than 10 months ago, and I’m proud of all the work that was done on a bipartisan basis.

“I’m pleased that Congress has taken additional steps by passing my SESTA legislation to let sex trafficking victims seek justice and allow state and local law enforcement to swiftly prosecute websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws.  This bipartisan measure will make it easier to hold online sex traffickers accountable, and I look forward to seeing President Trump sign this bill into law next week.”

NOTE: Last July, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Carper (D-RI), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) recommended that the Department of Justice investigate Backpage.com, saying in a letterthat they believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal review.  The two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) inquiry, led by Portman and McCaskill, 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 children and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits. 

The investigation led to the narrow legislative solution called SESTA, which 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.  SESTA – which is awaiting the president’s signature – makes two important changes: (1) itallows sex trafficking victims to get the justice they deserve by removing the law’s unintended liability protections specifically for websites that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking; and (2) it allows state and local law enforcement to prosecute websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws.