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Wagner Introduces Bipartisan Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017

Apr 3, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced the bipartisan Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, along with Representatives Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Ed Royce (R-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Ted Poe (R-TX), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Martha Roby (R-AL), and Lynn Jenkins (R-KS). This legislation would lift barriers that have prevented the Federal Government, States, and victims of sex trafficking from pursuing justice against America’s modern-day slave markets.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 has been wrongly interpreted to shield websites that participate in sex trafficking from any criminal liability. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has said that it is Congress’ role to clarify the intersection between Section 230 and sex trafficking laws. This legislation would provide that urgently needed clarification while safeguarding the freedom of the Internet.

As the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found in Backpage.com, LLC, vs. Loretta Lynch in 2016, “there is no doubt” that online advertisements that promote sex trafficking are “not afforded First Amendment protection.” This legislation would make clear that Congress never intended Section 230 to create a lawless internet where bad actors can engage in criminal activity online that they cannot engage in offline. This is already obvious to our State authorities: In 2013, 47 State Attorneys General called on Congress to amend the CDA to restore jurisdiction to State authorities who are tasked with protecting America’s children.

The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 would:

1)    Amend Section 230 to allow State authorities to investigate and prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking using State criminal statutes that prohibit sex trafficking or sexual exploitation of children.

2)    Amend Section 230 to allow victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of children to exercise civil remedies, such as the private right of action available to sex trafficking victims in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

3)    Amend 18 U.S.C. § 1591, the sex trafficking statute, to define “participation in a venture” in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s 2016 decision in Jane Doe vs. Backpage.com, LLC.

4)    Amend 18 U.S.C. § 1591 to clarify that it is unlawful for a provider of an interactive computer service to publish information provided by an information content provider, with reckless disregard that the information is in furtherance of a sex trafficking offense.

“I am honored to introduce this legislation on behalf of the countless children, women and men who have been sold into modern slavery and robbed of their dignity. Sex trafficking has no place in a just society, and bad actors who run these websites are criminals who belong in prison,” said Congresswoman Wagner. “Congress never intended for Section 230 to give a free pass to the retailers of America’s children, and we must address the judicial interpretation of the law and provide a voice for the most vulnerable in our society. This legislation gives U.S. law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and victims the tools they need to help dismantle the human trafficking trade in the United States.”

“I am proud to join Congresswoman Ann Wagner in continuing our bipartisan effort to end the scourge of human trafficking. It is unbelievable that in 2017, web developers, digital advertisers and other companies are allowed to sidestep federal and state human trafficking laws and avoid prosecution because of legal ambiguity,” said Congresswoman Beatty. “The Allow State and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 will strengthen and clarify current law, ensuring justice for more victims and holding accountable both the trafficker and those who facilitate sex trafficking. I look forwarding to working with my colleagues to get this important piece of legislation passed and signed into law by the President.”

"Let's be clear: human trafficking is modern day slavery, and it is time for elected officials and each American to do everything in our power to end it,” said Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. “Halting the sex trade on the web is one important component of this fight, and I urge Congress to act swiftly to empower law enforcement to prosecute websites that are deliberately promoting and profiting from trafficking in persons. I strongly support the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act because it would do just that, removing unnecessary federal barriers to law enforcement action, while providing important safeguards for constitutionally protected free speech. Our state knows firsthand the tragedies of human trafficking, and this legislation is one of many steps necessary to stop this appalling epidemic."

The following organizations support the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017:

National District Attorneys Association; National Association of Police Organizations; Major Cities Chiefs Association; Fraternal Order of Police; National Organization for Victim Assistance; National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE); WIFLE Foundation Inc. (Women in Federal Law Enforcement); Shared Hope; DeliverFund; FAIR Girls; Missouri Police Chiefs Association; Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley; Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; St. Louis Police Officers Association; Airline Ambassadors International; Courtney’s House; The Covering House; Missouri KidsFirst; Missouri Juvenile Justice Association; Faith & Freedom Coalition; Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention; Focus on the Family; Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation-CATE; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Faith & Action in the Nation’s Capital; Cornerstones of Care; Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police; Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM); Crisis Aid International; Ambassador Swanee Hunt; Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International (CATW); Concerned Women for America; National Organization for Women; NEST Foundation; Skagit County Coalition Against Trafficking; Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Eastern NC Stop Human Trafficking Now; Foundation for a Slavery Free World; Church of Scientology; She is Rising; Exodus Cry; Innocents at Risk;  Saving Innocence; Artists for Human Rights; Enough is Enough;  Redeeming Joy; and National Center on Sexual Exploitation.

Click here for letters and quotes in support of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017.