Major Online Sex Trafficking Bill Passes Senate

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on March 23, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's probably a safe bet that everyone in Congress wants to fight sex trafficking. But it's also a safe bet that they won't all agree on the best way to accomplish that goal. In a surprising turn of events, almost all U.S. Senators agreed to pass a bill that targets online sex trafficking. But the bill is not without its vehement detractors.

An End to Online Sex Trafficking?

Proponents of the bill, "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act," or FOSTA, say that it makes it illegal to use a website "with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person." Targeting websites like Backpage, the law is meant to close a loophole that protected websites from liability with respect to their user-posted content. This loophole allowed Backpage to say they weren't responsible for the escort ads posted by users.

The bill also includes a maximum 25-year sentence for those who operate a website which promotes prostitution of five or more people, or if they show a "reckless disregard" that their website facilitates sex trafficking.

Unconstitutional and Ineffective?

However, opponents of the bill argue it's unconstitutional and misses the mark in the fight against sex trafficking. Senator Ron Wyden says the bill would hamper free speech and make it harder for sex workers to screen their clients electronically, leaving them exposed to additional violence and exploitation. They also argue that this measure will merely push sex trafficking to the dark web where law enforcement and prosecutors can't reach and track it.

Additionally, the Department of Justice has weighed in on the bill and expressed concern about its constitutionality. In particular, the DOJ has flagged a provision which allows for prosecution even if the conduct occurred before the law goes into effect.

If you're a victim of sexual abuse, or you've been accused of a crime, it's important to speak with an attorney right away to protect your rights.

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