Portman offers bipartisan bill to bring enablers of human trafficking to justice

Legislation introduced on Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) would eliminate federal liability protections for websites that facilitate human trafficking and would empower state authorities to bring those individuals and businesses to justice.

“We have a responsibility to act because human trafficking has now become a national crisis,” Portman said.

Portman introduced the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act in response to a two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) review that resulted in a report titled, “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” Portman’s bill has drawn bipartisan support from more than 20 senators, including U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

On Tuesday, Portman said on the Senate floor that the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act was incredibly important to fighting sex trafficking and that Congress must act to bring justice to victims.

“We’re told that human trafficking, including sex trafficking, is now a $150 billion a year industry,” Portman said. That makes it the second biggest criminal enterprise in the world, only behind the drug trade. And this ruthless, corrupt industry is significantly growing. Why? Because of the internet; because of the digital age. As victims of sex trafficking have told me, ‘Rob, this has gone from the street corner to the smart phone.’”

People are being bought and sold on public domains that are accessible from simple internet searches, Portman added, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that 73 percent of all child sex trafficking reports stem from Backpage.com.

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act would clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make sure that websites that facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable.

The legislation would put into place three common sense reforms. First, it would allow victims to seek justice against websites that knowingly facilitate crimes against them. Second, it would eliminate the federal liability protections for websites that assist, support or facilitate the violation of federal sex trafficking laws. Finally, state law enforcement would be permitted to take legal action if those businesses violate federal sex trafficking laws.

Speaking in support of the bill, Blunt said websites that profit from sexual exploitation of trafficking victims should not be protected by the Communications Decency Act.

“This bill would make narrow but critical changes to the law to better protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable,” Blunt said. “I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill and provide law enforcement an important tool to combat human trafficking.”

Capito agreed that the trafficking of women and young girls is an “unconscionable crime,” and that Congress should do everything possible to bring an end to the “inhumane practice.”

“The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act will help accomplish that important goal by better preventing the facilitation of trafficking and making it easier for law enforcement officials across the country to hold offenders accountable,” Capito said. “With this bipartisan bill, we can better protect the victims of exploitation and fight back against the criminals taking advantage of them.”

Collins, meanwhile, noted that sex trafficking has impacted every state across the country.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline has received reports of 5,551 sex trafficking incidents across the country in 2016 alone.

“In order to help victims and prevent these atrocities from occurring, we must relentlessly pursue human traffickers who prey upon the most vulnerable in our society,” Collins said. “This bipartisan legislation would ensure that websites who knowingly facilitate these heinous crimes are held accountable for their actions.”