WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), held a hearing today to receive an update on efforts to combat sex trafficking online and examine H.R. 1865, the Allowing States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.
Chairman Blackburn, whose district recently saw 22 individuals indicted for trafficking, described the challenges in the fight against this sordid crime, “As the stings and the headlines continue to proliferate, those who thought that slavery was something that could never happen in 2017 America, have had to confront the terrifying reality that not only is it happening, it is on the rise. And it is on the rise in large part because the Internet, the technological masterpiece of our time, has made it much, much easier to do. In both the House and the Senate this year, we are facing up to the challenge with a long overdue conversation driving toward effective action.”
Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), the bill’s sponsor, discussed in her written testimony recent efforts in Congress to address online trafficking, “I support the Senate’s recent action on my legislative proposal, and I believe that it is a step in the right direction.” She continued, “There is tremendous momentum to pass a bill that prevents the exploitation of trafficking victims, deters criminal conduct, and incentivizes practices that will reduce online sex trafficking. Indeed, Congress has a moral obligation to shut down these websites. I am committed to collaborating with this Subcommittee, the House Judiciary Committee, House Leadership, and the Senate to end the online trafficking industry in America.”
Russ Winkler, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, shed light on the agency’s local efforts, “Today as I sit here talking with you, the TBI has 66 active investigations into human sex trafficking where the victim is under 18. Circumstances vary, but there is a lot of commonality among these cases. An identified juvenile sex trafficking victim(s) has either run away from home and/or met someone online and there is a sex trafficking perpetrator(s) who takes the child and forces, threatens, or coerces her (the victim is nearly always female) to engage in sex acts for money. In most cases, the medium of choice for posting ads for underage sex is Backpage.com.”
Ms. Derri Smith, CEO, End Slavery Tennessee, spoke to the needs of victims rescued from the horrors of trafficking, “Once a survivor comes into care at End Slavery Tennessee, the plan of care often depends on drug addiction, prior victimization, length of time enslaved and the age of the victim. We have provided care and services to survivors from four to fifty-two years old, with a primary focus on minors through age twenty-five, and in eight languages. In the past five years, we have gone from operating out of one ten-by-ten foot office to a small suite of offices, to now a Care Center and three safe houses. We currently care for about 190 survivors per year in Nashville and the surrounding area.”
Ms. Yiota Souras, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, commented on issues surrounding the Communications Decency Act, “We have learned an enormous amount over the past few years about the complexity, ruthlessness, profitability, and massive scale of the sale of children for sex online. At the same time, we have witnessed courts struggle, and fail, to provide child sex trafficking victims with effective legal redress or to hold online entities legally responsible for facilitating sex trafficking. Courts have been unable to find their way around the barriers created by an overly broad application of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), a statute that is over two decades old and has created virtually absolute immunity for online entities, even those actively engaged in trafficking children for sex.”
A background memo, witness testimony, and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found online here.