On Wednesday, April 11th, President Trump signed the FOSTA-SESTA act, (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act). Just five days prior, on April 6th, the federal government shutdown Backpage.com, a site commonly used by traffickers to sexually exploit women, men and children. This is a tremendous moment for sex trafficking survivors and their families.
What exactly is FOSTA-SESTA? The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Traffickers Act clarifies the country’s sex trafficking laws to make it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate or support sex trafficking. SESTA also amends Section 230 (safe harbors) of the Communications Decency Act to exclude enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws from its immunity, (previously, sites like Backpage were immune from civil liability for the actions of their online users). FOSTA also amends the Communications Decency Act, allowing criminal and civil actions against a website if the conduct violates federal sex trafficking laws.
Survivors of sex trafficking can now seek to hold exploitative websites civilly liable in court. This bill recognizes the harm caused by Backpage and other online platforms that facilitate the trafficking and exploitation of women, men and children. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found an 846% increase in reporting of child sex trafficking to its cyber tip line from 2010-2015. The center states that this large increase directly correlates to the increased use of the internet to sexually exploit children.
The bill does, however, miss the opportunity to address the need to criminally prosecute the traffickers themselves. Critics of the bill worry that sex trafficking will be pushed further underground, to websites located on the dark web, (leading to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when addressing sexual exploitation). Critics also worry that this could cause harm by forcing trafficked victims and “consenting” sex workers to “walk the streets”, potentially exposing them to more violence.
The FOSTA-SESTA act will hold websites like Backpage accountable for their facilitation in sexual exploitation. This is a needed first step in ending sexual exploitation. The next step should be holding traffickers themselves accountable.
Have you or someone you know ever traded sex for a place to stay, food, money, drugs, etc. You can speak with an advocate.
Advocates welcome individuals of all ages and genders. Our services are free & confidential*. An advocate can help you with staying safe, finding resources, and can provide a safe and judgement free environment to talk about what you’re going through. We can also provide free safe sex kits, (condoms, the morning after pill, pregnancy tests, etc.). Contact Stacey at 360.703.3762 ext. 20 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Caleb at ext. 16 or email@example.com.
*Services are confidential except in the case where a mandatory report would need to be made.
Advocates are available to provide information about how to recognize common signs of sex trafficking and education to schools, businesses, organizations, churches, etc. to help you learn how to safely respond and report to police and/or the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
To report suspected trafficking or to get assistance, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline anytime of day at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733.
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Why “real life”? People who are involved in sex trafficking commonly use the phrase “the life” to describe their situation. We understand that “the life” they are living has Real challenges, Real risks, and they are Real people with value and strength. We decided to use this name to describe our program because we can help survivors talk about Real life struggles, Real solutions, and help people experience the Real life they seek.
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