Portman’s SESTA Law Already Making a Difference in Combatting Human Trafficking

August 7, 2018 | Press Releases

Senator Portman’s bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) law is already making a significant difference in combatting online sex trafficking of women and children, resulting in the shutdown of several websites that knowingly facilitated sex trafficking.  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the leading anti-trafficking group in the country, said this about SESTA’s progress thus far: 

“Since the enactment of SESTA and the government’s seizure of Backpage, there has been a major disruption in the online marketplace. The robust marketplace for online sex trafficking, including the sale of children for rape and sexual abuse, that took a decade to build, fragmented over the course of just a few days.  It is no longer perceived to be safe to operate a website that knowingly facilitates the sale of children for sex.  Many sites or portions of sites where NCMEC knew children previously have been sold for sex have voluntarily shut down. This means it is much harder to purchase a child for sex online.” 

Two weeks ago, Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor on the progress made as a result of SESTA in just the last four months: 

“We have done an effective job in dealing with a very real problem. Backpage.com, which we talked about, was the industry leader, they have now been shut down. Their CEO and the company have pled guilty to numerous money laundering and trafficking-related charges. … It’s not just Backpage.  A lot of other classified websites have also shut down their ‘personal ads’ so-called or sex-related operations. … And because prosecutors can now do their work and go after these online traffickers and because victims of this abhorrent crime can finally have their day in court, these websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking are being shut down and being held liable for their action.” 

Portman meets regularly with advocates, law enforcement, and victims in Ohio as part of his efforts to combat this horrific crime.  In July, Portman visited an innovative program created by Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Heather Russell called CHANGE Court – for Changing Habits And Setting New Goals is Empowering – which is designed to give victims of sex trafficking and others a chance to get clean, walk away with a clean record, and rebuild their lives.  Many of the CHANGE Court participants and graduates he spoke with had been trafficked online.  

The enactment of SESTA was a big victory for trafficking victims and survivors who, for too long, had been denied the opportunity to get the justice they deserve. The measure was the culmination of a three-year effort – which included a victory at the Supreme Court – to hold accountable Backpage and other websites that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking of women and children.  The nearly two-year investigation by Portman’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) culminated in a shocking report which detailed how Backpage facilitated criminal sex trafficking and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits. 

As co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, Senator Portman has a long record of fighting this terrible crime. He is the author of six federal anti-trafficking laws, each designed to make a real difference in better serving victims and helping law enforcement combat this horrific crime.