In a letter sent to Representative Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), the heads of several faith-based organizations expressed their support for her bill targeting sex trafficking on the Internet. The letter opens with this declaration:
Our organizations write to strongly support the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 which will empower law enforcement to effectively combat online sex trafficking hubs that provide a safe haven for modern day slave traders. We commend you for shining a light on the online marketplaces that profit from the growing epidemic of sex trafficking in the United States, and we encourage Congress and President Trump to join your effort to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to protect our most vulnerable citizens who are ensnared in the online sex trade.
The bipartisan bill led by the Republican congresswoman from Missouri seeks to “amend the Communications Act of 1934 to clarify that section 230 of such Act does not prohibit the enforcement against providers and users of interactive computer services of Federal and State criminal and civil law relating to sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking, and for other purposes.”
In 1996, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act. Intended to clamp down on the availability of pornography to children as well as regulate obscenity on the web, section 230 of the Act has been used as a legal shield by those seeking to profit from the exploitation and slavery of others. The offending section states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
In a press release, Rep. Wagner’s office clarifies that the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” would:
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) 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.
Sex trafficking is an abhorrent evil that everyone in our society should fight, and Christians should lead that fight. The Bible commands us to “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute” (Psalm 82:3).
For too long, our country has allowed websites like Backpage.com to profit from the kidnapping, sale, and rape of vulnerable women and children. In their letter to Rep. Wagner, the ERLC, Faith & Freedom Coalition, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and Family Research Council make clear that:
[The] Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 is an important and critically needed reform that will protect women and children without undermining internet freedom or the first amendment. The vast majority of trafficking victims were sold on Backpage.com. Congress never intended Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to serve as a liability shield to companies so that they could profit from the sale of women and children for sexual exploitation.
Sadly, the bill is facing a tough fight. Readers interested in helping to protect women and children from being raped and sold as sex slaves should call their congressperson and express support for the “Allow States and Victims to Fight to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017.” Thankfully, evangelical leaders like Russell Moore are leading the way in supporting this important bill.