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Senator Lankford Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Fight Online Sex Trafficking, Hold Backpage.com Accountable

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today joined a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure justice for victims of online sex trafficking and ensure that websites such as Backpage.com, which knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, can be held liable and brought to justice. 

The legislation is the result of a two-year Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations inquiry, led by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). The Subcommittee produced a report entitled “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” which found that Backpage.com knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits. The measure has been endorsed by numerous law enforcement and anti-human trafficking organizations, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

“We must eliminate loopholes to prevent any entity from avoiding the justice they deserve,” said Lankford. “This legislation is needed to help protect vulnerable people from modern-day slavery, which unfortunately has been facilitated more and more online. I’m proud to work with my colleagues on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Investigations Subcommittee to not only investigate Backpage.com, but to address the urgent, moral issue of human trafficking.”

“Until our investigation showed Backpage was actively facilitating sex trafficking, the company had repeatedly used the federal law that protects online platforms to escape accountability for the disgusting crimes it aided,” said McCaskill. “But even as we’ve helped deny Backpage its legal shield in these cases, we need a broader effort to stop the next Backpage, before it starts. And that’s what this bipartisan bill is all about—better protecting families from sex trafficking by making clear to any company considering going into business with sexual predators, that the law won’t protect them from responsibility.”

“Our bipartisan investigation showed that Backpage knowingly facilitated sex trafficking on its website to increase its own profits, all at the expense of vulnerable women and young girls,” said Portman. “For too long, courts around the country have ruled that Backpage can continue to facilitate illegal sex trafficking online with no repercussions. The Communications Decency Act is a well-intentioned law, but it was never intended to help protect sex traffickers who prey on the most innocent and vulnerable among us. This bipartisan, narrowly-crafted bill will help protect vulnerable women and young girls from these horrific crimes.”

John Clark, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said, “This bill will help ensure justice for child sex trafficking victims and clarify remedies available to civil attorneys and state Attorneys General to assist victims in holding responsible everyone who participated in their trafficking.”

The bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act would clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to ensure that websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable so that victims can get justice. This narrowly-crafted legislation offers three reforms to help sex trafficking victims. The bipartisan bill would:

  • Allow victims of sex trafficking to seek justice against websites that knowingly facilitated the crimes against them;
  • Eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws; and
  • Enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

A full summary of the bill can be found here, a summary on why the bill is necessary is here, a section by section here, and the text here

Other original co-sponsors of this bill include: Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Lee (R-UT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Senator Lankford is a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations.