The Catholic University of America

CUA Law Professor Mary Leary published a March 19 op-ed entitled "Misinformation campaign is at the center of opposition to common sense sex trafficking legislation" in The Hill regarding pending SESTA legislation. 

Misinformation campaign is at the center of opposition to common sense sex trafficking legislation

From: The Hill
By: Mary Graw Leary, Donna M. Hughes, Shea Rhodes, Audrey Rogers and Penny Venetis
Date: March 19, 2018

To close an unconscionable loophole created by the courts in lawsuits brought by children sold online for sex, the House of Representatives passed sensible, narrowly tailored legislation. This bill clarifies that websites, such as, that knowingly partner with sex traffickers and sell sex trafficking victims online, can be sued for damages and held accountable under state anti-trafficking criminal laws. The House voted overwhelmingly (388-25) to support Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-Mo.) bipartisan Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (“FOSTA-SESTA”).  This week, this legislation reached the floor of the Senate.  Sens. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal’s (D-Conn.) Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (“SESTA”), which is now joined with FOSTA, has bipartisan support with 67 co-sponsors from both parties.  Some in the tech world want to kill this bill by flooding the airwaves with misinformation. Their arguments make no sense.

One recent study found that 70 percent of child sex trafficking victims surveyed were sold online.  The Attorney General of California testified before the Senate that nearly every sex trafficking case his office handles involves online advertising.  For the last decade, whenever a victim who had been sold online tried to sue, or a state attorney general tried to enforce his own state’s anti-trafficking laws, websites such as have successfully fought them in court. got their suits dismissed by arguing that a 1996 law (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) grants them immunity to engage in this business.

Who can oppose such common sense legislation to close this unintended loophole? Well, sex traffickers who profit from such sales of human beings can.  The ILO estimates that forced sexual exploitation generates approximately $99 billion a year in profit.  Then there are the internet companies that, unlike brick and mortar companies, have enjoyed total immunity while making money from this loophole. A Senate investigation into found that approximately 93 percent of its revenue  (estimated at $150 million in 2016) comes from “adult services” ads.  Other websites are seeing the high profit and no risk opportunity from ads that sell people online and they are not hesitating to join in behind this legal protection.

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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.