WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and other core sponsors of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (S. 1693) today announced an agreement on several technical and clarifying changes to the bill. The changes are included in aThune/Nelson/Blumenthal amendment filed today in advance of the committee’s markup scheduled for next Wednesday, November 8.
“In September, the Commerce Committee’s hearing featured powerful and thoughtful testimony about the need to address online sex trafficking while maintaining key operational pillars of the internet ecosystem,” said Thune. “I’m very pleased our committee was able to assist the bill’s sponsors in forging broad agreement that should speed the path to enactment. With the changes in our amendment, I hope that all Senators on the committee with jurisdiction over the internet will support this bill.”
“Stopping the online sexual exploitation of children should be a top priority,” said Nelson. “I’m pleased an agreement has been reached that will help us achieve that goal.”
“This important bill will hold online sex traffickers accountable and help give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve,” said Portman. “I’m pleased we’ve reached an agreement to further clarify the intent of the bill and advance this important legislation. This bill has now achieved a broad consensus that includes law enforcement from around the country, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Urban League, and the Internet Association.”
“I’m pleased that the industry has commendably accepted the need for legal change and accountability. We expect to move forward with a bill that places responsibility where it belongs to protect children from sex trafficking and ads that exploit them. Removing the unwarranted shield from legal responsibility will save countless children from horrific tragedy, both physical and emotional,” said Blumenthal.
“I’m pleased that the tech industry has agreed to support our legislation to ensure justice for victims of sex trafficking. This bill is critical to eliminating legal protections for companies like Backpage.com that have knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking and destroyed the lives of innocent young women and girls. I look forward to the Senate quickly taking up this bill to ensure companies like Backpage are held accountable for enabling these heinous crimes,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).
“When it comes to protecting Missouri’s children, I’ll do whatever it takes to break through any obstacles in our way to hold accountable those who would sell our kids as easily as they would sell a motorcycle.” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a former sex crimes prosecutor. “Hard-nosed, smart bipartisan negotiations get results, and there’s no better example of that than today’s deal that brings together some of the biggest tech companies with a bipartisan group of Senators, trafficking victims and law enforcement, all with the same aim—holding websites like Backpage accountable and getting justice for victims.”
“To hold human traffickers accountable, we need everyone on board to help prevent these horrible crimes,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). “We now have the Internet Association and its influential and well-known members in the tech community on board, and I hope that encourages more companies to join our effort. Traffickers shouldn’t be able to hide behind websites to traffick and enslave men, women, and children for sex. That isn’t a world we should live in, and today, we’re taking another important step to move our legislation forward and stop it from happening.”
The purpose of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act is to (1) allow sex trafficking victims to get the justice they deserve by eliminating federal liability protections for websites that knowingly assist, support, or facilitate online sex trafficking; and (2) allow state and local prosecutors to prosecute websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws. The Thune/Nelson/Blumenthal amendment makes several technical changes to further clarify the intent of the bill — changes that are responsive to several issues raised at the Commerce Committee hearing held on September 19. These changes, which do not change the purpose or scope of the bill, do three things:
- Make clear that all criminal charges are based on a violation of the federal human trafficking law so that there is a uniform standard.
- Clarify the definition of “participating in a venture” and ensure the standard for liability remains “knowingly” for websites that are assisting, supporting, or facilitating sex trafficking.
- Permit state attorneys general to bring a civil action against those who violate the federal human trafficking law on behalf of a state’s residents in federal court.