Congress passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) to target websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking or intentionally promote the prostitution of others (pimping). The violation is aggravated if a website knowingly promotes or facilitates the prostitution of 5 or more persons or acts in reckless disregard if such conduct contributed to sex trafficking. FOSTA-SESTA also allows victims of online sex trafficking to seek civil remedies.
For years, bad actor websites that knowingly promoted sex trafficking and pimping online have been shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which states that websites are not liable for third party content. Trafficking victims who have been sold into prostitution through online ads have had no legal recourse against these websites that reaped millions of dollars of profits from the exploitation of those victims, mostly women and girls.
FOSTA-SESTA gives victims who were sex trafficked online the opportunity to sue these websites for civil damages as victims of crimes. FOSTA SESTA will finally allow states, such as Nevada, to pursue charges against problem websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking and hold them accountable. Prior to FOSTA – SESTA, states have been powerless to apply their own laws to unscrupulous websites that profit from the exploitation of vulnerable women and children. States will be able to enforce their criminal laws with FOSTA-SESTA.
The only people who will “lose business” under FOSTA-SESTA are owners of websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking and promote pimping online. Developing or owning a website that solely solicits sexual acts is not covered under the purview of FOSTA-SESTA. While a small piece of the sex buying market may go to the dark web, the online marketplace has to be accessible to buyers. It cannot thrive if it goes deep underground where people cannot find it.
It is also a myth to believe that law enforcement needs Backpage and other sites to find sex traffickers. While not every person in the sex trade was trafficked, the overwhelming majority of prostituted individuals, who in the US are mostly women and girls of color, were trafficked. Prostitution is where sex trafficking occurs.
It was an incredible moment when the news about Backpage and the affiliated websites was released. We all want those sites to stop profiting from the harm of others.
At the same time, those of us in victim services also know that the unintended consequence is that exploited persons will bear the brunt of this. That doesn’t have to be the case. Awaken would like to stand in the gap for trafficked/prostituted persons. Now more than ever, we are here to show ourselves as being available and willing to help those who are displaced by this action.
– Melissa Holland