Update: Amazing news! The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act or SESTA was passed in the Senate on Wednesday, March 21 by a vote of 97-2. Previously passed in the House, the legislation now heads to President Trump's desk for his signature. Read on below for more context on this important legislation that would protect children from online sex trafficking.

Do you remember hearing about Backpage.com?

Backpage, and other such websites, have for years facilitated child sex trafficking by allowing ads selling children for sex to be posted on their sites. In fact, a Senate investigation found that Backpage actively facilitated child sex trafficking by recruiting pimps and helping write their ads.

Although Backpage no longer advertises children for sex, law enforcement agencies, anti-trafficking advocates, and survivors want to hold the operators of Backpage responsible through civil lawsuits. But courts have ruled repeatedly that a provision in current U.S. law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – means Backpage and other companies can’t be held liable for their part in the sexual exploitation of children.

Though the law was designed to protect Internet freedom, nobody intended for it to be used to defend those promoting child sexual abuse. Bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (S. 1693), would eliminate the provision that shields operators of websites from being held liable for knowingly allowing or promoting human trafficking. It would also allow state prosecutors — not just federal law enforcement — to take action against individuals and businesses that use websites to violate federal human trafficking laws.

At UNICEF USA, we are defenders of child rights, and we understand that free speech and access to a free and open Internet are very important for children and young people. But we also recognize our responsibility to protect children from violence, exploitation, and abuse. We agree with CoStar CEO Andy Florance’s comment about Internet freedom: “…when we see those driven by greed take advantage of that freedom by facilitating underage sex trafficking, we cannot be silent.” Preeminent anti-trafficking and law enforcement organizations believe that this legislation is necessary to help protect children.

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