(Image by Volkan Olmez)
On April 11, 2018, President Trump signed into law the long awaited and fought for FOSTA-SESTA bills, which amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. From now on, any websites that aids the facilitation of online commercial sex trafficking will be held accountable. This, certainly, is a win for our nation’s history. However, when I took to the internet for a victory lap, I was surprised by the onslaught of criticism and lack of empathy for the many victims that, at last were being recognized. There has been countless cries for the rights of sex workers, but hardly any utterance for children’s rights. It was as if the internet missed the whole reason as to how we got here in the first place: Websites like Backpage.com, were gaining profits through online sex-trafficking of children.
These bills were passed due to the result of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations findings of Backpage.com (formerly owned by The Village Voice) to be knowingly facilitating child sex-trafficking. Not only were seven Backpage executives charged for their involvement, but they racked up a fascinating 93-count indictment. This means that Backpage allowed the selling of sex with children to be knowingly sourced from their site without interruption. In April of 2018, CEO, Carl Ferrer, plead guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to prostitute. More on the indictment of Backpage can be read here. It cites as many as 17 victims trafficked, some of them as young as 14 years old, stating that, “Many of the ads published on Backpage depicted children who were victims of sex trafficking”.
Due to the progression of ad sites, sex-trafficking has had the ability to thrive in the online marketplace producing online advertisements that provide the possibility of being sold, harmed and raped. These ad sites have gained massive profits through the facilitation of human trafficking: specifically, the selling of children. With FOSTA-SESTA in place, ad sites can no longer conduct business with impunity and will be held accountable for providing avenues for the purchasing of commercial sex online.
Opposition to FOSTA-SESTA believes that this will challenge our freedom and rights through more restrictive online policies. However, this narrative lacks the understanding that without a bill like FOSTA-SESTA in place, the freedom and rights of children are stolen by allowing acts of violence through online exploitation. Lauren Hersch, National Director of World Without Exploitation wrote in an open letter to the WSJ in response to their editorial about FOSTA-SESTA (Political Sex-Trafficking Exploitation): “This legislation does not restrict freedom of speech, because criminal activity is not protected speech. This legislation isn’t about a lawsuit bonanza because it narrowly focuses on websites that knowingly facilitate trafficking. This legislation is simply about doing what is right: putting people over profits and working to create a world without exploitation.” There is a reason that sex trafficking racks up billions each year and is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. It’s because there are people on and offline that are turning profits off the brokenness of humanity by providing them with a perverted gratification at the expense of another individual’s life. Unfortunately, it is because of these individual’s usage of the internet for gain as to why we need to monitor it in the first place.
Below is a breakdown of FOSTA-SESTA and what we can expect from its installment in our Country's law.
1) What is FOSTA-SESTA?
In March 2018, Congress passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) to target websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking or intentionally promote the prostitution of others (pimping). The violation is aggravated if a website knowingly promotes or facilitates the prostitution of 5 or more persons or acts in reckless disregard if such conduct contributed to sex trafficking.
FOSTA-SESTA also allows victims of online sex trafficking to seek civil remedies.
2) Why the need for FOSTA-SESTA?
This legislation is about access to justice.
For years, bad actor websites that knowingly promoted sex trafficking and pimping
online have been shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which states that websites are not liable for third party content. However, the intent of CDA 230 was never meant to allow illegal conduct on the website.
Trafficking victims who have been sold into prostitution through online ads have had no legal recourse against these websites that reaped millions of dollars of profits from the exploitation of those victims, mostly women and girls. FOSTA-SESTA gives victims who were sex trafficked online the opportunity to sue these websites for civil damages as victims of crimes.