Last Friday, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed H.R. 1865 (115), the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) which seeks to address sex trafficking on websites like Backpage.com by making it easier for victims of sex trafficking to sue website operators who knowingly facilitate such crimes says William D King.
The bill amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which has protected website operators from state criminal charges or civil liability if they act as mere conduits for material created by others. The bill clarifies that Section 230 does not impair federal criminal law including obscenity prohibitions, child pornography laws, sexual predation laws, and laws against human trafficking.
The bill, which is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate before it reaches President Trump’s desk, will likely herald a major shift in how federal legislators approach the problem of sex trafficking. For one, it will make it possible for victims of sex trafficking crimes to hold websites accountable for facilitating such crimes – currently; there are no legal repercussions for hosting sex advertisements on sites like Backpage.com despite countless reports showing that these sites aid and abet criminal activity.
It may also prompt stricter enforcement of other criminal provisions, including obscenity laws prohibiting pornography that depicts rape or simulated rape, child pornography laws prohibiting sexually explicit depictions of minors (even if they are not advertising underage victims), sexual predation laws prohibiting adults luring minors into unprotected sexual encounters, and laws prohibiting human trafficking.
“Many of us in this body have long advocated for a legislative solution that would allow victims of sex trafficking crimes to seek justice against websites like Backpage.com who knowingly promote these horrific crimes,” said Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO) after the bill passed on Friday. “I am thrilled that this long-awaited legislation is now one step closer to becoming law.”
There are still some detractors, however – including digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation which argues that the bill would undermine free speech by removing incentives for web operators to moderate user content or support anti-sex trafficking initiatives says, William D King. Some sex workers also oppose the bill because they fear their personal advertisements will be pushed underground following its passage, effectively criminalizing their profession while driving sex traffickers further into the shadows.
“It was not that long ago that Craigslist shut down its personals section after congress passed a law making websites liable for user posts,” said Melanie Randle. Director of legal advocacy at Freedom Network USA which advocates on behalf of trafficking victims. “We saw firsthand how this resulted in people being force to work on the street. Where they are far more vulnerable to violence.”
Randle’s group cites research showing that FOSTA will result in an additional 1,500 sex workers being trafficked on the street every month. As well as increase demand for underage trafficking victims (who cannot legally advertise online until age 18). She also believes that FOSTA would compel credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard to stop processing online adult advertisements; thereby depriving sex workers of a safe and reliable means to transact with clients (the bill includes an amendment explicitly. Protecting these companies from legal liability).
“We are gravely concerned that this legislation will cause more harm than good for trafficking victims,” Randle says. “When you don’t have enough evidence to hold someone criminally liable, passing additional laws is not the answer.”
It’s unclear whether FOSTA will actually result in increased street prostitution. The bipartisan nature of its passage suggests. That lawmakers believe it will provide real relief for victims of sex trafficking. However, even supporters like Wagner acknowledge that there is no silver bullet solution for ending human exploitation on the Internet.
“FOSTA is not a panacea, but it is an important start,” she said. “I look forward to the Senate continuing this momentum by quickly taking up and passing our bill. So that it can be sent to the President’s desk and become law.”
Meanwhile, sex workers and digital rights advocates will continue their uphill battle against the bill. Whatever its effects may be, FOSTA is destine. To remain one of the most controversial pieces of legislation passed by Congress in 2018.
The US House of Representatives has passed a bill designed. To crackdown on sex trafficking by holding websites liable for user-generated content. The Allow States and Victims To Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) also known as SESTA. Despite opposition from digital rights groups, sex workers, and even the EFF. Those who have argued that it will undermine free speech, drive criminals underground & target legitimate actors explains William D King.
The final vote was 388-25 with 5 members not voting. Digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation had called on lawmakers to vote no on FOSTA. Because they believe it will make it harder for organizations like them to do their work. They said in an accompanying release: “Although well-intentioned, the bill is not at all clear about how in practice. Its balance between enforcement and protection will play out. EFF encourages the Senate to go back to the drawing board on this issue.”
Foes of FOSTA have referred to it as “the end of the Internet”. Because they say that online platforms could censor their users’ posts for fear of legal liability. If they are deem to facilitate prostitution says, William D King. Members of Congress who support FOSTA have argued that without these changes trafficking victims will continue. To be force into modern-day slavery and not be able to find help.