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Wagner Trafficking Bill Headed To House Floor

Feb 21, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO), Congresswoman Mimi Walters (R-CA), Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and victim advocacy organizations released the below statements following the announcement by the House Rules Committee that Congresswoman Wagner’s bill, H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), will be put on the floor the week of February 26th. The bill is expected to be considered under regular order with an amendment from Congresswoman Mimi Walters that includes victim-centered provisions from S. 1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), sponsored by Senators Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal. Together, this bipartisan package would clarify that section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) does not prevent states and victims of sex trafficking from pursuing justice against America’s modern-day slave markets. The FOSTA-SESTA package reflects the hard work of both House and Senate legislators and is an historic legislative achievement in the fight against online trafficking.

“Since day one, I have pushed for the strongest, most effective criminal and civil tools possible to confront the horrific abuses of online sex trafficking,” said Congresswoman Wagner. “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. I am thrilled that with the help of the Judiciary Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, House Leadership, and Congresswoman Walters, we are bringing a bill to the House floor that will protect the fundamental rights of victims of sex trafficking. Online trafficking is flourishing because there are no serious, legal consequences for the websites that profit from the exploitation of our most vulnerable. This FOSTA-SESTA package will finally give prosecutors the tools they need to protect their communities and give victims a pathway to justice.”

“Last year, a massive international sex trafficking ring that was using the Internet to sell sexual services was uncovered in the heart of my district, Irvine, California. Thousands of those ads were tracked through Backpage.com, including ads selling minors for commercial sex. Websites such as Backpage have become storefronts for this modern-day slave trade,” said Congresswoman Walters. “The FOSTA-SESTA legislation will significantly help prosecutors crack down on websites that promote sex trafficking, while providing much needed recourse for the thousands of men, women, and children who are victims of this evil industry. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation and send a clear message that we will bring to justice those who facilitate and promote sex trafficking.”

“For years, we have seen a disturbing increase of online ads selling trafficking victims and minors for sex,” said Congresswoman Maloney. “This activity is not only horrifying and downright evil, it is also unequivocally illegal. Congress must act to clarify that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was never meant to shield sex traffickers and give victims a pathway to justice. I’m proud to support this legislative package that will empower trafficking survivors and their families, and equip law enforcement with the tools they need to crack down on these horrendous crimes.”

“For years, Congresswoman Wagner has led House efforts to protect and empower trafficking victims, and we have enjoyed working on this effort together with the Wagner team,” said Jennifer Hohman, activist and founder of #FightForUs, a social and community movement. “The FOSTA-SESTA package coming to the floor next week is a testament to the bravery of survivors across the country and Congresswoman Wagner’s leadership, and it will be transformative in the fight against online sex trafficking. This legislation will help bolster our work to improve state and local anti-trafficking efforts, and provide needed remedies to survivors.” 

“We are delighted that the House has written a strong law to protect children,” said ECPAT Executive Director Carol Smolenski. “The U.S. cannot be a country in which it is acceptable and legal for children to be sold online. This new law will finally give prosecutors and families some tools they can use to stop the abuse."

“Finally, we are shutting down the loophole that allows websites like Backpage.com to facilitate the sale of our children for sex,” said John Clark, founder of Operation Texas Shield. “Congresswoman Wagner started going after these websites with her SAVE Act in 2015, and her FOSTA-SESTA package is the next step in this national movement to hold traffickers criminally liable. This bill gives prosecutors the criminal tools they need to elevate risk for traffickers and deter them from ever entering the online sex trade. It will put traffickers behind bars, and I could not be happier to watch it get signed into law.”

“This groundbreaking bill is an effort to bring justice closer to all those who tragically have been victims of traffickers, only to survive, and then be lost again in the morass of current legal conflicts and barriers to having their day in court,” said the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. “We look forward to a day when people being sold for profit, will truly be part of our country's past. When that story is written, this law can be part of that victory. Thank you to all those who have contributed to this accomplishment.”

“The Faith & Freedom Coalition is proud to support the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which will empower law enforcement to effectively combat online sex trafficking hubs that profit from and provide safe haven for modern day slave traders,” said Timothy Head, Executive Director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. “Rep. Wagner is shining a light on the marketplaces that contribute to the growing epidemic of sex trafficking in the United States, and Congress and the Trump administration should join her effort to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to protect our most vulnerable citizens who are caught up in the online sex trade."

BACKGROUND

In recent years, sex trafficking has moved from the streets to the internet. But law enforcement and victims can’t hold the websites that sell our children accountable. H.R. 1865 would give federal, state, and local prosecutors the tools they need to hold websites accountable for supporting the sale of sex trafficking victims. It would allow prosecutors to use both state sex trafficking laws and promotion of prostitution laws to prosecute websites that sell victims of trafficking, in addition to providing a new federal crime that is specifically tailored to how bad actor websites are engaging in the online sex trade. The Walters Amendment, endorsed by Congresswoman Ann Wagner, reinstates critical, pro-victim sections of the original bill, including provisions from S. 1693, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The Amendment would clarify that section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not impair or limit victims of sex trafficking from using their private right of action against the websites that sell them; amend the federal 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; and allow State Attorneys General to bring civil actions on behalf of sex trafficking victims.