Experts: “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” Will Drive Traffickers Toward the DarkWeb

Recently, an Ohio Senator proposed a bill, which would introduce new felony charges for sex offenders. With the new charges, the senator seeks to cut back online sex trafficking, however, an expert stated that the new bill is dangerous, and sex traffickers might migrate to the dark web.

The recent bill, proposed by Senator Rob Portman (Ohio), aims to put an end to online sex trafficking. According to the senator, sex trafficking claimed the lives of many victims – who are often underaged – and this needs to be stopped. Senator Portman stated in an article (written by him) in the Guardian that websites, such as Backpage.com, are “knowingly” running advertisements of underaged girls. Law enforcement authorities tried to shut down such websites in the past, however, according to the senator, the sites are protected by the 1996 Communications Decency Law. The goal of the law was to protect website owners against the users and third parties who were posting harmful and illegal content on their domains. However, as of today, the law is now protecting online sex traffickers, the senator argues.

The senator stated that the protection of online sex trafficking by a federal law is a “failure of the Congress”. To fix this “flaw” in the U.S. justice system, Senator Portman proposed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The bipartisan law will make modifications to the Communications Decency Law, which would allow law enforcement to crack down and prosecute websites that “knowingly facilitate” online sex trafficking. According to the senator, this way, the victims of sex trafficking will get their justice against the websites where their “services” were advertised.

Senator Portman’s bill received criticism from the tech community stating that the bipartisan law will limit the freedom of speech.

“And despite what some opponents of this bill in the tech community have argued, it is narrowly crafted and only removes immunity protections from websites that knowingly facilitate, support or assist online sex trafficking. This high standard will protect against frivolous lawsuits for good online actors not actively engaging in these inhumane crimes,” the senator wrote.

On the other hand, the opposers of the bill do not only say that the new law will limit freedom of speech but that it is not against sex traffickers but sex workers.

“Don’t be too deceived. This isn’t primarily about sex trafficking as most of us would understand it; this is an attack on sex workers in general; trying to deny them the means to do business on the internet. Backpage sex work listings in the USA have already been shut down in a previous attack,” one user wrote under the Guardian article response of the senator’s bill.

Kim Mehlman-Orozco, a human trafficking expert, said that the new bill won’t close down online sex trafficking but will create more havoc in the lives of the victims.

“I think that this policy, like many anti-trafficking pieces of legislation in the past, is symbolic in nature,” she said.

Ms. Mehlman-Orozco has conducted numerous research in the past regarding sex and human trafficking. She also testified as an expert witness for the prosecution in multiple sex trafficking cases. Ms. Mehlman-Orozco said that the history and her research suggests that Senator Portman’s bill will not crackdown on online sex trafficking but it will force the sex traffickers to migrate to the dark web or to overseas countries out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement authorities. She said that “makes [the traffickers] harder to identify, harder to prosecute, and harder to rescue [the] victims.”

According to Senator Portman, numerous senators are supporting his bill, however, not the tech giants Facebook and Google. According to a Google spokesperson, the legislation is “overly-broad” and the company seeks to rework the bill with the lawmakers to narrow the proposal’s scope.

“Look, they said they have concerns about internet freedom. There’s nothing in this legislation that would affect my freedom as an internet user, unless I’m assisting people in trafficking,” Senator Portman said, adding that he hopes the two companies will come on-board with his proposal.

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