Victims and survivors bought and sold on Backpage.com celebrate access to justice and holding websites accountable for criminal conduct
New York, April 11, 2018 – The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) commends the passage and signing into law today of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (H.R. 1865). The law, known as FOSTA-SESTA, will hold websites accountable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking and pimping online. The law also provides the opportunity for victims and survivors trafficked online to sue these websites for civil damages, both at the federal and state levels.
FOSTA-SESTA narrowly clarifies Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230), which states that websites are not liable for third party content. CDA 230 shielded a number of websites, including the classified ads website Backpage.com, from prosecution, and prevented trafficking victims, bought and sold in prostitution through online ads, from having any legal recourse against these websites. A Senate investigation found that Backpage.com in particular actively engaged in the editing of prostitution-related ads, with knowledge of facilitating sex trafficking. Reports also indicate that the company reaped $500 million in profits from ads promoting the sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of mostly women and girls.
“It was Backpage that made my experience in prostitution worse for me and better for my pimp,” said survivor leader Melanie Thompson, who was sex trafficked in New York at 12 years old. “He made me write the ads and profited three times more using Backpage. The sex buyers who found me on Backpage were the most violent and demanding; they didn’t care that I felt violated and degraded. Backpage helped my pimp keep them coming.”
This groundbreaking legislative success is the result of the efforts of social justice advocates nationwide and the brave survivors and family members of victims of online sex trafficking who continuously called on Congress to amend CDA 230 for almost a decade. Bi-partisan efforts, led by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who investigated Backpage.com and listened to survivors, were also key to this legal victory, which will end impunity for online sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“This isn’t about free speech and it isn’t about internet freedom; both of which will continue to flourish,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, CATW’s executive director. “It’s about Desiree Robinson, murdered at age 16 by a sex buyer who found her on Backpage. This law is in her honor and in honor of the countless other victims on whose sexual exploitation, or even death, Backpage richly profited. No more.”