By Joy Allmond
The internet has been one of the primary tools operating the sex trafficking trade—and now Congress is moving toward holding that marketplace accountable.
The House overwhelmingly passed a bill Feb. 27 to allow states and victims to sue websites that enable human trafficking. Many in the tech industry have raised concerns about the bill, saying it could make online companies liable for content posted by third parties.
The bill, which passed 388-25, also would give local, state and federal law enforcement tools to fight criminals who buy and sell people for sex slavery.
Sponsored by Congresswoman Ann Wagner, R-Mo., H.R. 1865 is known as the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, or FOSTA.
BREAKING: The House just took a monumental step in the fight to end online sex trafficking. Thank you to all of my colleagues & the advocates that made passage of this bill possible. Together we can #EndHumanTrafficking #FOSTA
— Ann Wagner (@RepAnnWagner) February 27, 2018
An amendment from Congresswoman Mimi Walters, R-Calif., was endorsed by Wagner. The Walters Amendment includes provisions from S. 1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), introduced in 2017 to make it illegal to knowingly facilitate sex trafficking.
Today, I spoke on the House floor in support of my amendment #SESTA + #FOSTA legislation to help prosecutors crack down on websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. pic.twitter.com/OPSCaQkn1D
— Mimi Walters (@RepMimiWalters) February 27, 2018
The amendment also explains that section 230 of the Communications Decency Act doesn’t prevent states and sex trafficking victims from pursuing justice toward websites used to sell them.
“H.R. 1865 with the Walters Amendment is the most effective way to empower victims, equip state and local prosecutors, and ensure websites can no longer traffic children with impunity,” said Rep. Wagner.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., joined Wagner and Walters to bring this bill to the floor as a bipartisan package. The bill now moves to the Senate.
Human trafficking—a $32-billion-a-year industry—is the fastest-growing organized crime activity in the United States.
Officials believe at least 105,000 children in America are caught up in the slave trade. In 2014, 70 percent of children in the sex trade were sold online.
“Evangelical Christians believe human trafficking is particularly heinous because it is an assault on the image of God on every life,” said Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy and general counsel at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“This must stop. Today’s vote on Rep. Wagner’s bill, H.R. 1865—Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017—was a needed step in the fight to end human trafficking. Government is right to pursue justice and defend the vulnerable.”
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JOY ALLMOND (@JoyAllmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.