House to consider bill next week to combat online sex trafficking

The House is expected to consider legislation when it returns from holiday recess next week that would ensure classified advertising websites such as Backpage.com can no longer enable sex trafficking.

The bipartisan bill would allow the prosecution of websites that facilitate sex trafficking sales and clarify a provision of the Communications Decency Act that would let victims take action against such websites.

“Online trafficking is flourishing because there are no serious, legal consequences for the websites that profit from the exploitation of our most vulnerable,” said Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Congress must act as investment fiduciary battle shifts to states GOP nearing end game on immigration votes MORE (R-Mo.), the chief author of the legislation, adding that it would “finally give prosecutors the tools they need to protect their communities and give victims a pathway to justice.”

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Backpage has come under fire in recent years for allegations that people were using its adult services section for prostitution and sex trafficking. The site closed down its adult section last year. 

Backpage’s terms of use prohibit posting any material that “in any way constitutes or assists in human trafficking,” “exploits minors in any way” or solicits “directly or in ‘coded’ fashion for any illegal service exchanging sexual favors for money or other valuable consideration.”

Craigslist, a similar classified advertising platform, eliminated its adult services section in 2010.

Current law as established by what’s known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act effectively provides websites with immunity from liability for what their users post. The legislation to be considered next week would clarify that victims of sex trafficking could bring lawsuits against websites that knowingly promoted the illegal activity.

The bill is also sponsored by Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), who noted in a statement that an international sex trafficking ring in her district used many ads through Backpage.com, as well as Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyElection Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Veteran New York Dems face upstart challengers Dem lawmakers make surprise visit to ICE detention center MORE (D-N.Y.).

“Congress must act to clarify that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was never meant to shield sex traffickers and give victims a pathway to justice,” Maloney said.