Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act is a Narrowly-Crafted Solution Designed to Protect Women & Young Girls from Modern-Day Slavery

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), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), James Lankford (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced bipartisan legislation — the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act — to ensure justice for victims of sex trafficking and ensure that websites such as Backpage.com, which knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, can be held liable and brought to justice.  

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 measure has been endorsed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and other anti-trafficking advocates and law enforcement organizations.

Senator Portman: “Stopping trafficking is one of the great humanitarian and human rights causes of the 21st century. Our bipartisan investigation showed that Backpage knowingly facilitated sex trafficking on its website to increase its own profits, all at the expense of vulnerable women and young girls.  For too long, courts around the country have ruled that Backpage can continue to facilitate illegal sex trafficking online with no repercussions. The Communications Decency Act is a well-intentioned law, but it was never intended to help protect sex traffickers who prey on the most innocent and vulnerable among us. This bipartisan, narrowly-crafted bill will help protect vulnerable women and young girls from these horrific crimes.”

Senator Blumenthal: “Our narrowly tailored legislation would give victims of sex trafficking their day in court. For too long, countless young people have been victims of prostitution, human trafficking, and horrendous violence through ads on websites like Backpage.com. This is not an abstract debate: these advertisements come with a real, unconscionable human cost.”

Senator McCain: “For years, Backpage.com has knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking and child exploitation, destroying the lives of innocent young women and girls,” said Senator McCain. “It is disgraceful that the law as written has protected Backpage from being held liable for enabling these horrific crimes. Our legislation would eliminate these legal protections and ensure companies like Backpage are brought to justice for violating the rights of the most innocent among us.”

Senator McCaskill: “Until our investigation showed Backpage was actively facilitating sex trafficking, the company had repeatedly used the federal law that protects online platforms to escape accountability for the disgusting crimes it aided.  But even as we’ve helped deny Backpage its legal shield in these cases, we need a broader effort to stop the next Backpage, before it starts. And that’s what this bipartisan bill is all about—better protecting Missouri’s families from sex trafficking by making clear to any company considering going into business with sexual predators, that the law won’t protect them from responsibility.”

Senator Cornyn: “We must do all we can to ensure victims of human trafficking receive the justice they deserve, and the first step is holding those who facilitate this heinous crime accountable. Child sex traffickers and their enablers should not be able to hide on the internet any longer.”

Senator Heitkamp: “For too long, websites like Backpage.com have profited from knowingly facilitating the sex trafficking of minors and others through the use of their online platform – in many instances, helping traffickers skirt law enforcement and their own standards to advertise minors for sex. And what’s worse: they’ve been able to continue doing this without penalty by claiming protection under the First Amendment.  That’s a disgusting and cowardly invocation of one of our nation’s most cherished freedoms – neither the First Amendment nor the Communications Decency Act was written to shield those who help enslave and sell children for sex. It’s past time to hold websites that make money from sex trafficking accountable, just as our laws already do for traffickers, for the enslavement and abuse of men, women, and even children – who have been  reportedly trafficked at a near 850 percent increase since 2010 largely because of the anonymity internet sales provide – and our bipartisan bill would work to do that by cracking down on these horrific crimes online.”

Senator Blunt: “Websites that turn a profit off the sexual exploitation of trafficking victims should not be afforded protection under the Communications Decency Act. This bill would make narrow but critical changes to the law to better protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable. I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill and provide law enforcement an important tool to combat human trafficking.”

Senator Brown: “We need to bring all traffickers to justice – no matter how they carry out this heinous crime. With evolving technology, we must ensure the law keeps pace with this modern-day slavery. I am pleased to join Senator Portman in making sure law enforcement can protect Ohioans from online predators.”

Senator Capito: “The trafficking of young girls and women is an unconscionable crime, and we should be doing everything we can to put an end to this inhumane practice. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act will help accomplish that important goal by better preventing the facilitation of trafficking and making it easier for law enforcement officials across the country to hold offenders accountable. With this bipartisan bill, we can better protect the victims of exploitation and fight back against the criminals taking advantage of them.”

Senator Casey: “Trafficking has no place in our society and those who enable it in any way should be held accountable.  This legislation would close a loophole that protects online platforms who knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. By allowing victims to seek justice and empowering state law enforcement to take action, this is a step in the right direction.”

Senator Collins: “Every state in America is affected by the evils of sex trafficking.  In order to help victims and prevent these atrocities from occurring, we must relentlessly pursue human traffickers who prey upon the most vulnerable in our society.  This bipartisan legislation would ensure that websites who knowingly facilitate these heinous crimes are held accountable for their actions.”

Senator Corker: “This legislation will play an important role in the fight against online sex trafficking by ensuring victims have an opportunity to seek justice and enabling law enforcement officials to take action against websites like Backpage that facilitate this horrific crime. This scourge on humanity knows no borders or boundaries, and I remain committed to efforts that will help end human trafficking and modern slavery worldwide.”

Senator Cruz: “I am proud to join Senator Portman’s bill in efforts to stop businesses that would promote or enable the heinous industry of human trafficking.  There is zero tolerance for those who engage in the abuse and victimization of trafficking, in Texas or anywhere. I am hopeful that this bill will save lives and eliminate legal loopholes to hold these offenders accountable in the strongest terms, and bring justice to those they have exploited.”

Senator Flake“Sex trafficking is a deplorable crime and companies like Backpage.com that knowingly facilitate it are reprehensible. Congress needs to act to hold these criminal actors liable for their victimization of innocent women and girls. I thank Senator Portman for introducing this important legislation, and I look forward to its swift passage.”

Senator Isakson: “In 2015, Congress passed legislation to help the victims of modern-day slavery and provide them with justice, and today’s legislation takes this intention a step further after recent court decisions have limited recourse for victims of this vile crime.  Legislation passed by Congress in the 90s was never intended to protect those who enrich themselves through sex trafficking. This legislation will help clarify the law, hold perpetrators accountable and hopefully help prevent future crimes of this reprehensible nature.”

Senator Klobuchar: “Websites like Backpage.com facilitate sex trafficking across Minnesota and our country.  But shutting down these sites isn’t enough, we need to stop protecting perpetrators and ensure victims are able to seek the justice they deserve. The bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act is another step forward to putting an end to these crimes once and for all.”

Senator Lankford: “Heinous crimes like sex trafficking deserve to be met with the fullest extent of the law. We must eliminate loopholes to prevent any entity from avoiding the justice they deserve.  This legislation is needed to help protect vulnerable people from modern-day slavery, which unfortunately has been facilitated more and more online. I’m proud to work with my colleagues on the PSI Subcommittee to not only investigate Backpage, but to address the urgent, moral issue of human trafficking.”

Senator Lee: “The Communications Decency Act was never meant to provide immunity to websites like Backpage.com.  Today’s legislation will deter others from facilitating sex trafficking and allow victims the possibility of restitution, while preserving the core protections of Section 230.”

Senator Nelson: “Despite a myriad of laws designed to crackdown on child sex trafficking, it’s clear our work is not done.  We must not only continue to aggressively go after the traffickers themselves but do more to curb online sex ads exploiting these young and innocent victims.”

Senator Rubio: “Perpetrators of human trafficking and websites like Backpage.com that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking of children must be held accountable.  Sex trafficking is an ongoing issue in Florida and across our nation, and this legislation is an important step forward in ensuring that those engaging in and helping to facilitate these crimes are held responsible and all victims receive the justice they deserve.”

NOTE: The bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act would clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to ensure that websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable so that victims can get justice. This narrowly-crafted legislation offers three reforms to help sex trafficking victims. The bipartisan bill would:

  • Allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly facilitated the crimes against them;
  • Eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws; and
  • Enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

A full summary of the bill can be found here, a summary on why the bill is necessary is here, a section by section here, and the text here

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