New York, August 1, 2017 - This morning, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) was introduced in the United States Senate. The bill has bipartisan support spanning the political spectrum. Its co-sponsors include: Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), James Lankford (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). The bill makes clear that sex trafficking victims can sue Backpage and other online companies that facilitate trafficking. The bill also clarifies that state law enforcement is authorized to take measures to curb online sex trafficking.
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act makes clear that the U.S. Senate disagrees with the courts around the country that have ruled that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) immunizes Backpage from civil suit, even though it knows that its website is used to promote and facilitate child sex trafficking. Several of the bill’s sponsors were members of the Senate Committee on Special Investigations headed by Senators Portman and McCaskill that issued two reports in 2015 and 2017 showing clear links between Backpage and child sex trafficking.
Legal Momentum fully endorses the Senate's efforts to clarify courts' misinterpretation of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. As the Senate makes clear, that statute was never intended to shield companies that facilitate online sex trafficking from civil or criminal liability. While Backpage's content creation activities already make it liable under the current law, other companies like it should be held accountable for their involvement in selling children and adults for sex. This legislation will ensure that sex trafficking victims can seek and finally obtain justice. We urge members of the public to reach out to their U.S. senators to express their support for the bill.
About Legal Momentum
Legal Momentum, the Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, has been advocating on behalf of girls and women for nearly 50 years. Legal Momentum was instrumental in drafting and helping pass the Violence Against Women Act and other major legislation that protects girls and women. In February 2017, Legal Momentum and Boies Schiller Flexner LLP filed federal lawsuits on behalf of an individual and entities in Arizona and Florida against the website Backpage.com for participating in the trafficking of children and young adults for sex.