Despite Big Tech Resistance U.S. House Passes Bill to Allow Prosecution of Trafficking Websites

By | March 1, 2018

WASHINGTON DC, March 2 (C-Fam) An ever-growing outcry from lawmakers, civil society, survivors and activists prompted the passing of an anti-trafficking bill on Tuesday in the House of Representatives ending impunity for websites that participate in sexually exploiting women and girls.

“We sent a clear message to trafficking victims: you are not alone, and justice is no longer out of reach,” said Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO-02) the sponsor of The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).

“FOSTA will produce more prosecutions of bad actor websites, more convictions, and put more predators behind bars. It will give victims a pathway to justice and provide a meaningful criminal deterrent, so that fewer businesses will ever enter the sex trade, and fewer victims will ever be sold,” the Missouri Congresswoman said in a statement following the historic vote.

The bill passed with bipartisan support, 388 to 25, after an amendment by California Congresswoman Mimi Walters restored original language that was gutted due to intense lobbying by big tech companies. They opposed any changes to the Communications Decency Act (CDA), a twenty-year-old law passed to protect websites from prosecution if others used their sites for criminal activity.

FOSTA now matches its Senate bill counterpart – The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), sponsored by Senators Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal.

“The passage of the Walters amendment was crucial as it restored to FOSTA the civil remedies for victims and clearly addressed the issue posed by the 1st Circuit Decision, which was whether Congress intended Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to shield online actors from facilitating the crime of sex trafficking,” Mary Mazzio told the Friday Fax.

Mazzio’s comment concerned the court decision in Doe v. Backpage that found even if Backpage knowingly engaged in illegal activity contributing to the sexual trafficking of minor girls that Section 230 of the CDA provided immunity.

Reports of online child sex trafficking incidences rose by 846% from 2010-2015 according to the Congressional testimony of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Child sex trafficking reports made through a CyberTipline indicate that some 71% of child sex trafficking reports pertain to ads on Backpage.

FOSTA provisions clarify that Section 230 “does not impair or limit victims of sex trafficking from using their private right of action against the websites that sell them.” It will “eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws” and will “enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to act against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.”

A mother of one of the victims portrayed in Mazzio’s film “I am Jane Doe,” expressed gratitude to all those that worked years to pass this historic bill. Known as “Nacole” to protect her daughter’s identity, she told the Friday Fax that “Families of victims have been fighting for a small change to section 230 for years and today I’m thankful to those that have brought this issue to light.” She asks that the Senate act quickly so the bill can be signed into law. The Senate bill has bipartisan support with 67 co-sponsors.