Wagner Introduces Bipartisan “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017”

Today in a bipartisan movement to lift barriers that have prevented the Federal Government, States and victims of sex trafficking from pursuing justice against America’s modern-day slave markets, Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced the bipartisan Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, along with Representatives Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Ed Royce (R-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Ted Poe (R-TX), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Martha Roby (R-AL), and Lynn Jenkins (R-KS).

This is a stunning and welcome step forward, especially considering it’s Ann Wagner leading the initiative. Her record is anything but progressive: She has consistently opposed regulating greenhouse gas emissions; opposes restrictions on gun purchases; supported the defunding, repeal & replacement of federal care with free market; strongly opposes a woman’s unrestricted right to abortions; voted NO on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and, perhaps the most telling of all, made the following statement about same-sex marriage:

“I believe in the sanctity of traditional marriage and believe that it should be up to states to determine the definition of marriage. The people of Missouri have spoken (referring to a constitutional amendment passed by Missouri voters in 2004 that bans same-sex marriage) and over 70 percent of Missourians decided that marriage should be between one man and one woman. I will always support states’ rights and the people of Missouri have made their decision.”

This near “tyranny of the majority over the minority” outlook is hardly progressive. Regardless, human trafficking, especially that of sex trafficking of minors, has become a hot button topic and one which draws support from all sides of the political and social narrative. As with the defeat of President Trump’s attempt to dismantle the Affordable Healthcare Act, vox populi has its power. And I applaud her efforts on this score.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 has been wrongly interpreted to shield websites that participate in sex trafficking from any criminal liability. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has said that it is Congress’ role to clarify the intersection between Section 230 and sex trafficking laws. This legislation would provide that urgently needed clarification while safeguarding the freedom of the Internet.

As the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found in Backpage.com, LLC, vs. Loretta Lynch in 2016, “there is no doubt” that online advertisements that promote sex trafficking are “not afforded First Amendment protection.” This legislation would make clear that Congress never intended Section 230 to create a lawless internet where bad actors can engage in criminal activity online that they cannot engage in offline. This is already obvious to our State authorities: In 2013, 47 State Attorneys General called on Congress to amend the CDA to restore jurisdiction to State authorities who are tasked with protecting America’s children.

The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 would:

  • Amend Section 230 to allow State authorities to investigate and prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking using State criminal statutes that prohibit sex trafficking or sexual exploitation of children.
  • Amend Section 230 to allow victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of children to exercise civil remedies, such as the private right of action available to sex trafficking victims in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
  • Amend 18 U.S.C. § 1591, the sex trafficking statute, to define “participation in a venture” in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s 2016 decision in Jane Doe vs. Backpage.com, LLC.
  • Amend 18 U.S.C. § 1591 to clarify that it is unlawful for a provider of an interactive computer service to publish information provided by an information content provider, with reckless disregard that the information is in furtherance of a sex trafficking offense.

“Congress never intended for Section 230 to give a free pass to the retailers of America’s children,”said Congresswoman Wagner. “We must address the judicial interpretation of the law and provide a voice for the most vulnerable in our society.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement defines these crimes in two ways:

Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

It’s estimated that Human Trafficking generates many billions of dollars in profits per year; second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.

“It is unbelievable that in 2017, web developers, digital advertisers and other companies are allowed to sidestep federal and state human trafficking laws and avoid prosecution because of legal ambiguity,” said Congresswoman Beatty. “The Allow State and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 will strengthen and clarify current law, ensuring justice for more victims and holding accountable both the trafficker and those who facilitate sex trafficking. I look forwarding to working with my colleagues to get this important piece of legislation passed and signed into law by the President.”

Bipartisanship for its own sake is meaningless and in some ways anti-democratic, muting opposition and dulling the edges of political debate. It’s value lay in the production of actual policy progress. In this case, it’s working to do just that.

"Let's be clear: human trafficking is modern day slavery, and it is time for elected officials and each American to do everything in our power to end it,” said Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. “Our state knows firsthand the tragedies of human trafficking, and this legislation is one of many steps necessary to stop this appalling epidemic."

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