The Catholic University of America

CUA Law Professor Mary Leary co-authored a September 19, 2017 Huffington Post op-ed entitled "Who Will Win in Congress – Trafficking Victims or Special Interests?" See below. 
 

Who Will Win in Congress – Trafficking Victims or Special Interests?

From: The Huffington Post
Date: Sept. 19, 2017 
By: Mary Leary and Kevin M. Ryan

A rare bright spot of bipartisan cooperation amidst Washington’s political party wars emerged this summer, and may amount to some long-delayed justice by year’s end for human trafficking survivors. They and their advocates have been pushing Congress for much of the year to fix a federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), that is being widely read by courts across the country to afford immunity to individuals and companies that knowingly collaborate with sex traffickers to advertise and sell women and children online for sex. In hearings today, we await steps to fix this injustice.

The outcry reached a crescendo last month when a California court dismissed pimping charges against the owners of Backpage.com for their role in marketing trafficking victims. In so doing, Judge Lawrence Brown of California Superior Court observed, “until Congress sees fit to amend the immunity law, the broad reach of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act even applies to those alleged to support the exploitation of others by human trafficking.”

You read that correctly – immunity for partnering with human traffickers in the selling of children for sex. And that means survivors are stopped at the courthouse door because companies are immune from even being sued by anyone at all.

This plea for Congressional action from a growing number of courts is not without good reason. The largest studies ever undertaken on the prevalence of human trafficking among homeless youth, informed by interviews with 911 youth across 13 cities, revealed earlier this year that nearly one in five homeless youth had been trafficked. Many of the young people who described being trafficked emphasized their desperation for food and shelter and the ease with which they were sold, including through advertisements on Backpage.com and other websites.

Their experience is not unique. Sex trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), in a five year period they witnessed an 846% increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking, a surge “directly correlated to the increased use of the Internet to sell children for sex.”

A recent investigative report uncovered documents showing, contrary to Backpage’s claims in court, the company knowingly worked with bad actors to craft and post online ads selling sex. Additionally, a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations two-year inquiry concluded with a report finding Backpage.com intentionally facilitated sex trafficking ads on its platform.

A bipartisan coalition of Senators, led by an especially focused and passionate Rob Portman of Ohio and Connecticut’s resolute former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, is determined to fix the problem. Their bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 (SESTA), with nearly 30 cosponsors in the Senate, will have its first hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee today. We plan to join supporters of the bill in Washington to make the case for its passage.

SESTA provides for this simple proposition: a company that knowingly acts to assist human traffickers should not have immunity intended for Good Samaritan companies working in good faith to limit this material.

We arrived at this point because tech companies and their well-funded allies have succeeded in perverting a well-intentioned 1996 law into a vehicle for absolute immunity. In 1996 Congress passed the CDA to assist families in shielding children from sexually explicit material. Congress also wanted the Internet, then in its infancy, to thrive. Balancing these goals, it crafted legislation designed to protect companies when they merely hosted content from third parties and when they chose in good faith to regulate explicit material on their sites — not when they knowingly engaged in clearly illegal activity.

. . .

Click here to view the article.

Mary G. Leary   

Professor Mary G. Leary's
Areas of Expertise

Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and Technology

Exploitation of children and women

Human Trafficking

For additional information about our professors' areas of speciality, see the Catholic University Experts page.