Approximately above a 100 sex trafficking victims and their advocacy groups are asking Senator Ron Wyden to stop trying to block a bipartisan bill that would be giving the families of victims and states the chance and ability to sue the websites that are allowing the advertisements selling sex with minors on their web-based platforms.
After the Commerce Committee had unanimously passed the measure in mid-November this year, Wyden had placed a hold on the measure, arguing that it could potentially harm the start-up Internet companies, the tech economy, and the innovators too.
Victims and their advocates have sent Wyden a letter on Wednesday, in which they are demanding that he removes the hold “immediately.”
“As survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, we know the deep and profound harms caused by sex trafficking,” the victims and advocates had written to Wyden. “We lead organizations that provide services and advocacy for exploited individuals, and continue to see first-hand the irreparable harms caused by online sex trafficking.”
“It is time to hold these websites accountable for the harm that they cause,” they had said.
Those who were signing the letter included dozens of the individual sex-trafficking survivors, along with several national advocacy groups, including the Salvation Army, the Organization for Prostitution Survivors, Trafficking Justice, and Survivors for Solutions.
The bill is urgently needed because classified ad sites have made the sex-trafficking business much easier to accomplish and yet even more difficult to prosecute, the advocates say.
“Every day, thousands of women and children are marketed and purchased online with ease and impunity,” they wrote in their letter. “It is as easy to order sex with children and exploited adults online as it is to order a pizza.”
Wyden’s hold cannot actually stop the bill from becoming law, but it still serves to stall progress and force the Senate leaders to use up much of the valuable floor time debating it instead of passing it by unanimous consent making things much easier. The bill’s backers say they are more than happy to have the public debate and are confident that it would pass with broad bipartisan support.
Senators Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal are the measure’s main sponsors. The bill too has attracted a total of 50 cosponsors in the recent weeks, including a total of 19 Democrats.
Wyden had helped in writing the 1996 Communications Decency Act, a provision of which the measure would continue to alter. He also has authored the legislation that was aimed at curbing the sex trafficking. He spoke out at against it in September during a Commerce Committee hearing and had reiterated his concerns in November.
“Having written several laws to combat the scourge of sex trafficking, I take a backseat to no one on the urgency of fighting this horrendous crime,” he had said in mid-November. “However, I continue to be deeply troubled that this bill’s approach will make it harder to catch dangerous criminals, that it will favor big tech companies at the expense of startups and that it will stifle innovation.”
Some of the very powerful Silicon Valley forces, such as Google and Facebook, had previously opposed the measure, arguing that it erodes the Internet freedom and places too much of liability on the websites.
However, these companies have appeared to back down when the Internet Association, which includes both Google and Facebook as members, had backed the bill following the technical modifications that made clear that the state attorneys general would still need to use the federal law, and not state law, as the basis for their lawsuits.
That support had come just days after Facebook, Twitter, and Google executives had appeared on Capitol Hill during the hearings that were scrutinizing their role in allowing the Russia propaganda to flow on their sites during the elections of 2016.
Google has not yet said publicly whether it now supports the modified bill.
Senator Kamala Harris, who is a Democrat from California, had supported the bill only after the Internet Association had announced its support. Harris also attempted to prosecute the Backpage as the California attorney general and had asked the Congress to go even further in changing the federal law to allow such lawsuits to move forward.A