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A movie about online sex-trafficking might actually get laws changed

May 19, 2017
In The News

“I Am Jane Doe” is an unabashed victim-advocacy film and has followed a route previously traveled by “The Invisible War” (sexual assault in the military), “The Hunting Ground” (campus rape) and “Trapped” (the war against reproductive choice): It’s taken its social-issue argument directly to Congress.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) had been working for a year to draft a bill that would exclude sex trafficking from Section 230 protections, but used the occasion of a February congressional screening of “I Am Jane Doe” to announce the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which now has bipartisan support.

“This is a criminal issue,” said Wagner. “Opponents of this bill have been brilliant in shaping their opposition as a First Amendment issue, but that’s bogus and they know it.”

“Of course, we all believe in freedom of speech. At the time this [act] was written, people weren’t selling kids online, let alone Backpage,” said Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain and one of the anti-trafficking advocates who appears in the film, via email. “It’s not a freedom-of-speech issue, it’s a human rights issue.”

Wagner said she thought “I Am Jane Doe” would be instrumental in “helping drive this bill across the finish line.” Over the years, films like “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Food Inc.” have probably left a considerable long-term impression on their viewers, but those viewers were likely to be sympathetic before they bought their tickets. Convincing lawmakers is a different thing entirely.