Sex trafficking may be one of the oldest forms of slavery in America, Rep. Ann Wagner writes, but our government still doesn’t have a great track record fighting it. Her legislation aims to change that. Although both sides of the aisle have joined forces to crack down on a practice that’s robbed children of full and healthy lives, Congress has had a tough time keeping up with the online side of the trade.
Under Wagner’s Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking (FOSTA), prosecutors (and victims) would finally have the tools to punish anyone who uses the internet to support or facilitate this kind of prostitution. FOSTA, Wagner explains, “will create a new crime that targets how websites are engaging in the online sex trade.” Over the past several years, the underground business of sex slavery has exploded online, where people’s identities are protected. “New research shows that underage victims are increasingly likely to first meet their trafficker online, and the majority of underage victims have been advertised or sold online. How is it that America’s children can be sold online like a t-shirt or take-out?” Wagner asks. “It’s because websites… have beaten the system and created sophisticated marketplaces where traffickers and buyers can anonymously post and respond to ads selling victims.”
Tired of seeing the loopholes of the current law exploited, House members are working to get a vote on a tougher law that will make it easier for states to act. As part of the measure, victims would also have a private right of action to sue if these online operators helped to create these services. “I find it hard to imagine that if a neighborhood business hosted a slave auction, the auctioneer would not be held criminally liable. But that’s exactly what is happening with websites like Backpage.com today… Congress never intended,” Wagner pointed out, “to create a lawless internet where businesses can commit sex trafficking crimes online that they cannot commit offline.”
Last night, the House Rules Committee gave FOSTA the green light. While there are still some issues to iron out, including the differences between Wagner’s language and the Senate’s, most people expect the legislation to be one of the more popular items on Congress’s schedule this year. And why not? Too many predators lurk in dark corners of the internet, waiting to destroy innocent lives. It’s time to make sure justice is done.