Many websites are shutting down or curtailing their sex trade just weeks after the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed similar anti-human trafficking bills that would allow victims to sue the websites on which they were bought and sold.
“Illegal commercial sex advertising platforms and forums have been blowing up, and johns have been calling our office and messaging us left and right, indicating that Congress has taken a powerful first step,” Congressman Ann Wagner’s staff told an anti-trafficking coalition on Thursday. “FOSTA-SESTA is disrupting demand for sex trafficking and shaking up the illegal commercial sex industry.”
Rachel Wagley, Wagner’s legislative director, told the coalition that many websites traffickers use to buy and sell victims for sex have shut down or curtailed business in just the last week.
Cityvibe shut down completely, the Erotic Review, the “Yelp of the sex trade” where men rate their experiences with trafficking victims, shut down advertisement boards in the United States, NightShift shut down to review policies, VerifyHim shut down its “newsreel,” Craigslist personals section was shut down, Reddit’s prostitution-related “subreddits” were marked private and the site instituted new policies banning the sale of sex acts and drugs, Google reportedly deleted its publicly shared commercial sex-related advertising, WordPress.com reportedly removed its commercial sex-related advertising sites, Paypal reportedly disabled advertised accounts for commercial sex-related payment, Rubmaps, Erotic Monkey, and USA Sex Guide had extended maintenance periods over the weekend, suggesting upcoming changes due to the new law, Microsoft is issuing new Terms of Service effective May 1st covering all of its platforms, including Skype and Xbox, to urge users not to use the services to share pornography or criminal activity.
The sex trafficking sites Cityxguide and Backpage were reportedly seeing a surge in use by sex traffickers as the other sites shut down.
Backpage was the subject of the Netflix movie I am Jane Doe by director Mary Mazzio and producer Alec Sokolow which demonstrated that judges and state attorneys-general were powerless to prosecute traffickers because of a clause in a 1996 law called the Communications Decency Act. Tech giants like Google fought Wagner’s bill, claiming the 1996 law gave them immunity, before finally succumbing to pressure last November.
The two new bills amend the 1996 law. FOSTA passed the House on February 27th. The Senate passed SESTA last week.
“FOSTA-SESTA set out to establish a meaningful criminal deterrent, so that fewer businesses would ever enter the online sex trafficking industry,” Wagley said. As a result, sex traffickers have been calling Wagner’s office to demand other venues open up.
“Criminal sex buyers have been arguing that they should have the right to buy sex,” Wagley said. “There are 3,142 counties/county equivalents in the U.S., and prostitution is legal in only two of them. And even in those two counties, the promotion of prostitution—at which FOSTA aims—is illegal.”
Congressman Wagner addressed the UN Economic and Social Council high level panel on trafficking last year asking Americans to urge their representatives to support FOSTA, which she co-sponsored. Wagner told UN diplomats that the “Internet has become a red-light district,” and that it was time to shut down online trafficking. The event was co-sponsored by the Group of the Friends of the Family, and Civil Society for the Family, which is co-chaired by C-Fam, publisher of the Friday Fax.
“Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. writes for C-Fam. This article first appeared in the Friday Fax, an internet report published weekly by C-Fam (Center for Family & Human Rights), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute (https://c-fam.org/). This article appears with permission.”
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