The Catholic University of America

CUA Law Professor Mary Leary was quoted in an April 12, 2018 Catholic News Agency article entitled "New US law aims to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking."

New US law aims to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking

From: Catholic News Agency
By: Jonah McKeown
Date: April 12, 2018
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However, Mary G. Leary, law professor at The Catholic University of America, rejected this idea. She told CNA in an interview that the amendment to Section 230 is narrow enough that it only removes a website's immunity if they knowingly enter into a venture with human traffickers, or if they intentionally promote prostitution.

“That is a very narrowly tailored, common sense bill. I think that any argument it will impair speech is just alarmist and misplaced,” she said.

Leary emphasized that criminal acts, such as prostitution and human trafficking, are not considered speech and have “never been protected by the First Amendment.”

“The Supreme Court has been quite clear that offers to engage in illegal activities are not protected speech,” she said.

Leary said testimony given to the Senate during the creation of the law singled out sites that are clearly “bad actors,” like Backpage, as opposed to the majority of websites that are “law abiding, good corporate citizens who want to end sex trafficking.” She said it is unlikely that most companies will simply look away and choose not to moderate content that promotes sex trafficking.

“That argument has not been proven by history,” she says. “There are many industries that, sadly, are places where sex trafficking takes, travel and tourism, shopping areas, foster care facilities...these are places that have never had immunity. We have not seen them as an industry look the other way or pretend it doesn't happen.”

In fact, she said, groups like the hotel industry have put together best practices to deal with illegal activities that take place on their premises. The new law does not require websites to police all content, but rather clarifies the purpose of Section 230, she said. There will be little effect for law abiding companies, because the law sets a high bar for prosecutors to prove that the company was knowingly and intentionally facilitating sex trafficking.

“What we will see are no longer companies out in the open, allowing and partnering with sex traffickers to sell women and children, with not only impunity but with absolute protection,” Leary said. 

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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.