After Dark needs students’ input on sex trafficking policy that is currently being proposed in the Senate
On Oct. 17, After Dark held a meeting where leaders led discussions, giving statistics about the sex industry, recounting stories of people who were personally victimized by trafficking and left the audience with a hopeful opportunity to get involved to combat the industry through policy.
The sex industry is a billion dollar industry and has only increased with the rise of technology. California is no exception.
“As a diverse cultural center and popular destination for immigrants with multiple international borders, California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the United States,” said the California Attorney General’s office in a report on human trafficking, according to NBC News.
The average age of initial involvement in trafficking is between 12 to 14 years old. Commercial sex with a minor under the age of 18 years old is considered sex trafficking. By law, it doesn’t matter if the minor engages in willful sex; if they are underage, they cannot provide legal consent.
Seventy-three percent of the 10,000 child trafficking reports were conducted through Backpage.com according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Backpage.com is an employment agency website, similar to Craigslist, where individuals advertise job inquiries.
Under labels like “hiring girls for ‘busy spa,'” “massage specialist,” “hired help,” “cleaning lady wanted,” “domestic” and “send a picture,” women, men and children are transported undercover through the billion dollar sex industry.
Posts like these are currently on the site.
“It is a high-profit industry with low risk of being caught,” senior Diana Gutierrez After Dark leader said. “There are so many loopholes to legislation, we need it to be specific.”
The Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 is a bipartisan act that intends to hold websites accountable for publishing information designed to facilitate sex trafficking. Under the act, individuals can charge civil lawsuits to internet domains.
“The bill will allow victims to get justice and will do so in a way that protects internet companies that are doing the right thing,” Republican Senator Rob Portman said.
If passed, it would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) and internet entities would be held liable as the speaker of any information “provided by another information content provider,” according to the Washington Examiner.
According to the Guardian, “the bill stems from a two-year inquiry by the homeland security subcommittee into classified advertising website Backpage.com. According to the report that followed the investigation, Backpage.com knowingly facilitated online child sex trafficking on the ‘adult’ section of its website. It did this by filtering the text of advertisements to delete keywords like ‘rape,’ ‘amber alert,’ ‘little girl’ and ‘loita’ before posting them to conceal the true intent of the ads.”
The Washington Post was given documents during a civil lawsuit that revealed that “Backpage hired a company in the Philippines to lure advertisers—and customers seeking sex—from sites run by its competitors…Backpage was editing ads to remove language indicating underage girls were available, rather than removing the ads.”
According to the manuals given to the Washington Post, Backpage solicited child prostitution on their page.
“For years, Backpage executives have adamantly denied claims made by members of Congress, state attorneys general law enforcements and sex abuse victims that the site has facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking…The company contends it removes clearly illegal ads and refers violators to the police,” the Washington Post published in July.
Backpage representatives continue to say that they cooperate with law enforcement and are instrumental in leading investigators to bust sex trafficking perpetrators. Backpage is granted immunity under the CDA as a third party that has no control over users content.
The tech industry is lobbying against the amendment saying the the bill holds companies liable for user content. Other anti-sex trafficking agencies are not in favor of the bill.
There is a fear that the bill will demand sites like Backpage to take their content down, and in turn drive sex traffickers underground, which would inhibit law enforcement’s ability to prosecute.
“The current legal framework encourages websites to report cases of possible trafficking to law enforcements…reforming the CDA to include the threat of civil litigation could deter responsible website administrators from trying to identify and report trafficking,” said Jean Bruggeman, the Executive Director for Freedom Network USA.
According to the American Bar Association, private industries are making an effort to combat human trafficking online.
“In December 2011, Google made several grants totaling $11.5 million to anti-trafficking organizations to support new initiatives utilizing technology to combat human trafficking…[the] initiatives include projects with Polaris Project, Slavery Footprint and the International Justice Mission,” the American Bar Association said.
Silicon Valley, technology associations representing Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, sent a letter to the co-sponsors of the bill, Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, saying: “while rouge actors like Backpage.com should be held accountable the sex trafficking bill, it would severely undermine a crucial protection for legitimate online companies, and would be counterproductive to those companies’ efforts to combat trafficking crimes.”
The After Dark meeting closed with a video of Yvonne Robinson Amberose who was the mother of Desiree Robinson a 16-year-old girl who was brutally murdered for saying no to sex from her perpetrator. “She didn’t want to do it again,” Amberose said.
Her testimony was meant to push legislators to amend Section 230 to protect children like Desiree. This case was filed in May as one of eight civil suits filed against Backpage this year.
“There have been hopeful signs generated in efforts using the Internet and other technologies to combat human trafficking. However with each effort to advance the cause of combating human trafficking, the traffickers look for newer technologies to stay a step ahead of law enforcements,” the American Bar Association said.
If you want to get more involved, voice your perspective by contacting your local representative and go to Free the Captives and After Dark meetings. After Dark plans to write a letter to SESTA in use for the amendment of Communications Decency Act (CDA), and clarify Section 230 in the next couple of weeks.