Senate passes SESTA, enhancing US anti-trafficking laws

Hope for Justice has welcomed the passage this week of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) through the US Senate in a 97-2 vote.

The House of Representatives already passed its version of SESTA last month, by 388 votes to 25, so it will now go to the President’s desk.

The new legislation, passed as part of a package with another law known as FOSTA, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, enables state law enforcement officials to take legal action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws, and clarifies the civil legal remedies available to victims against the websites utilized by their traffickers.

The language of the legislation was crafted carefully to avoid impacting or harming other websites that are not knowingly facilitating sex trafficking, ensuring their First Amendment rights are protected.

Richard Schoeberl, Investigations Team Leader for Hope for Justice USA (pictured), said: “Websites will finally be held accountable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking. The fact that the US Senate overwhelmingly passed SESTA brings the United States a step closer to ending modern-day slavery and the abuse of millions.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline says it has received nearly 2,000 reports of sex trafficking that were facilitated through online advertisements. Hope for Justice is an official referral agency for the hotline, which is operated by Polaris.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (pictured, right), who together with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) spearheaded this legislation, said: “What victims of sex trafficking endure is modern-day slavery. It is modern-day slavery and we need to break the shackles.”

Sen. Portman spoke in the Senate about the websites he said were involved in trafficking. In his speech, he said: “They’d get an ad from somebody selling an underage girl. The ad would say something like ‘schoolgirl’ or ‘cheerleader’ or ‘young girl’. They would then edit that ad to take out those words that would indicate what was going on, and they knew what was going on, and then they would place the ad anyway. In other words, they would make the money, make the profit, knowing that they were selling an underage girl online. They also then were destroying the evidence that later law enforcement could use to go after these people.

“This is evil, and this has been happening…So this is legislation that is overdue in my view. And it’s required. The courts have told us that. The district attorneys have told us that. The attorneys general told us that. Fifty of them wrote us a letter saying ‘make this change’. They have all said ‘Congress, step forward’. They have not just invited us to do it. They welcomed us to pass this legislation to give these families the justice they deserve and to give our prosecutors the ability to go after them.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), with whom Hope for Justice worked to campaign for what is now known as the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, said: “This scourge on humanity knows no borders or boundaries, and it’s important we continue to build on the progress we have made in the past few years against modern-day slavery and human trafficking. I applaud my colleagues for supporting this legislation and look forward to President Trump signing it into law.”