I added my name to the growing list of humanitarian activists and others fighting against human trafficking by supporting the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 and The Allow States and Victims to Fight online Sex Trafficking Act.
Major tech companies are actively obfuscating the issue while hiding behind free speech in their attack on any alteration to the Communications Decency Act.
It is incomprehensible that websites like Backpage.com hide behind arguments of free speech while knowingly facilitating sex trafficking as they post ads selling children for sex right alongside ads selling sofas and bicycles.
The film “I Am Jane Doe” chronicles the legal battles victims and their families have faced when pursuing justice for children who were sold for sex through online ads.
It’s been a long and lonely legal struggle for the parents featured in the film who are battling to ensure that the horrific things that happened to their daughters cannot continue to happen to others.
Legal rulings point to the critical need for a change in the Communications Decency Act behind which Backpage.com and others have successfully hidden, while making millions of dollars in a low risk, high profit venture of selling children.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Doe v. Backpage recently found that even if Backpage.com had participated in criminal activity, its conduct was protected from the claims of children who had been sold on its site.
The court advised the children to seek a legislative remedy because Section 230 was in conflict with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
These amendments clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and ensure that websites that facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable and allow victims justice.
This narrowly and carefully crafted legislation offers three reforms to help sex trafficking victims. It:
– Allows victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that facilitated the crimes against them;
– Eliminates federal liability protections for websites that assist, support or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws; and
– Enables state law enforcement officials, in addition to federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.
The tech industry’s opposition to any attempt to tweak Section 230 is not driven by free speech concerns; it is driven by the same motivating factor that drives companies like Backpage.com to facilitate sex trafficking — profit.
This legislation seeks to amend a law that now protects the very harms that it was enacted to prevent.
Why are these actions allowed and protected online when they are considered criminal acts offline?
Putting up posters of trafficked people or children for sale in a shopping mall constitutes a federal crime.
Yet companies like Backpage do this online. Backpage “rents” out pieces of online real estate and allows “tenants” to post advertisements and photos of trafficked people.
Common sense dictates that selling children online is reprehensible, it is also illegal.
It’s time to work together to eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws.
It’s time to lend our voices and support to the thousands of voiceless victims of online human trafficking.
Cindy McCain is co-chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and on the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council. Twitter: @cindymccain