Congress Targets Online Human Trafficking

Mar 28, 2018

The U.S. House and Senate passed a bill to stop online human sex trafficking. H.R. 1865, known as the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, targets online sex trafficking and subjects websites to federal criminal and civil liability when users misuse online personals. The bill awaits President Trump to sign it into law.

H.R. 1865 “amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both—on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.”

As a result, several of the top websites where sex traffickers sell their victims have now shut down. Craigslist announced it is removing .its “Personals” sections. The Erotic Review has removed prostitution ads and Reddit took down its “Hookers” forum page and other related forums due to the bill.  Cityvibe is also down. 

The top trafficking site, Backpage.com, which has been at the center of this controversy for many years, has not yet removed its personals section. In spite of Backpage founder Carl Ferrer’s October 2016 arrest, his classified ads website continues to sell online ads promoting sex with minors. Ferrer was arrested in 2016 and charged with pimping a minor, pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping.

The International Labor Organization estimates there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide. In the United States, this $32 billion-a-year industry is increasing in all 50 states. Human trafficking has surpassed the illegal sale of arms and will exceed the illegal sale of drugs in the next few years. The Justice Department estimates that each year at least 200,000 children are trafficked for sex in the U.S., and 70 percent of the survivors said they were advertised online at some point while they were being trafficked. In these scenarios, pimps and traffickers, or in some cases the victims themselves, post photos and write classified advertisements on escort sites for buyers to browse. These ads often represent children from 12-17 years old.

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