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Senators Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Hold Backpage Accountable, Ensure Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking

Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act is a narrowly-crafted solution designed to protect women & young girls from modern-day slavery

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today introduced bipartisan legislation — the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act — to ensure justice for victims of sex trafficking and ensure that websites such as – based in Dallas, Texas – that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, can be held liable and brought to justice.   

Sen. Portman’s original press release may be viewed here.

The legislation is the result of a two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) inquiry, led by Senators Portman and McCaskill, which culminated in a report entitled “’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” which found that knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits. The measure has been endorsed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and other anti-trafficking advocates and law enforcement organizations.

"I am proud to join Senator Portman’s bill to put a stop to businesses that would promote or enable the heinous industry of human trafficking,” Sen Cruz said. "There is zero tolerance for those who engage in the abuse and victimization of trafficking, in Texas or anywhere. I am hopeful that this bill will save lives and eliminate legal loopholes to hold these offenders accountable in the strongest terms, and bring justice to those they have exploited."

“Stopping trafficking is one of the great humanitarian and human rights causes of the 21st century. Our bipartisan investigation showed that Backpage knowingly facilitated sex trafficking on its website to increase its own profits, all at the expense of vulnerable women and young girls,” Sen. Portman said. “For too long, courts around the country have ruled that Backpage can continue to facilitate illegal sex trafficking online with no repercussions. The Communications Decency Act is a well-intentioned law, but it was never intended to help protect sex traffickers who prey on the most innocent and vulnerable among us. This bipartisan, narrowly-crafted bill will help protect vulnerable women and young girls from these horrific crimes.”

The bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act would clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to ensure that websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable so that victims can get justice. This narrowly-crafted legislation offers three reforms to help sex trafficking victims. The bipartisan bill would:

·      Allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly facilitated the crimes against them; 

·      Eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws; and 

·      Enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws. 

A full summary of the bill can be found here, a summary on why the bill is necessary is here, a section by section here, and the text here