Anti-Trafficking Experts Support Bill Targeting Backpage.com

This week, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which is intended to ensure justice for victims of sex trafficking and ensure that websites such as Backpage.com can not hide behind a loophole in the law has earned the endorsement of anti-trafficking experts like AZMen Executive Director Kathleen Winn.

The bipartisan legislation is the result of a two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) inquiry, led by senators Rob Portman and Claire McCaskill, which culminated in a report entitled “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” The report 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 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 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.

“Backpage.com has used Section 230 as a shield from prosecution while facilitating child exploitation through explicit ads selling our children to buyers who are raping them for profit,” stated Winn.

“Backpage.com makes money, the pimps make money, the buyers commit crimes against children and the victims have had no legal recourse,” continued Winn. “I cannot imagine that was the original intent of the law, to grant immunity to those facilitating this type of crime. But currently they have immunity from third party content. The problem is Backpage.com became a producer of content on their site and pierced their protection. The next test in a courtroom comes in October in Washington state, three minor victims will attempt to prove that Backpage.com helped facilitate their sale, drafted ads that sold them, and continued to do so even after being notified of the inappropriate content.”

“There is no greater evil in this world than repeatedly selling a vulnerable human being to perform sex acts especially if those human beings are children. The Internet has expanded and so has sexually explicit content. We have laws against child pornography, it is our hope we can hold those accountable who are breaking other laws but hiding behind this current loophole,” said Winn, whose organization, AZMen, is dedicated to male voices and action in support of women and children in Arizona.

The measure has also been endorsed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and law enforcement organizations.

“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,” said Portman. “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.”

“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,” said McCaskill. “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 Rubio stated, “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.”