WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) are praising this week’s signing of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) into law as part of a broader congressional effort to help stop online sex trafficking and provide justice for victims. The bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 97-2 last month.
“This is a momentous day in the fight to help stop online sex trafficking, and a big victory for trafficking victims and survivors who for too long have been denied the opportunity to get the justice they deserve,” Portman said. “We wouldn’t have gotten to this point without the bravery of the sex trafficking victims and their families who shared their stories, the work of anti-trafficking advocates who helped us craft a narrowly-tailored solution, and a broad coalition of support that was unwavering its commitment to getting this done. I’d particularly like to thank Senators Thune, Blumenthal, McCain, McCaskill, Cornyn, and Heitkamp for their leadership and hard work on this effort. No one thought that we could get this done, but we did. SESTA will make a difference in the lives of sex trafficking survivors. Justice for these victims is long overdue.”
Blumenthal added: “With Backpage on its back heels, the message is clear: the tide is turning against online sex trafficking, and with the tools in our legislation in the hands of survivors and law enforcement, perpetrators of this pernicious crime should finally expect to face justice. We wouldn’t be here today without the brave survivors who came forward, shared their stories, and cried out for justice. This bill is a model for what we can do when we work together across party lines, and when the tech industry is willing to come to the table to help solve a problem.”
“I’m gratified the President has signed the bipartisan Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act into law,” McCain said. “This legislation delivers long-overdue changes to the law that for too long has protected websites like Backpage.com from being held accountable for enabling human trafficking. Now for the first time, victims of these heinous crimes will have the ability to seek the justice they deserve. I want to thank Chairman Portman and my colleagues in Congress for championing this much-needed legislation, and commend my wife Cindy, who has dedicated her time and energy to fighting human trafficking and supporting victims. We have a long way to go to eliminate human trafficking in the United States and around the world, and I hope Congress will build on today’s achievement to end the exploitation of the most vulnerable among us.”
McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor, said, “today brings to a close an era when malicious actors like Backpage could hide behind an outdated law that gave them license to knowingly facilitate sex trafficking of children online. For nearly two years, Senator Portman and I investigated a powerful company that went all the way to the Supreme Court to resist our investigation and prevent us from making public the damning findings that could arm local prosecutors and law enforcement. With our landmark, bipartisan law now on the books—survivors can now access the justice they deserve, and we’re better able to prevent websites like Backpage from claiming any more innocent victims.”
“It is long past due that we update our laws to hold accountable those websites and technology providers that knowingly abet online sex trafficking,” Cornyn said. “I am grateful to the President and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for supporting this law to ensure trafficking victims get the justice they deserve.”
Heitkamp added: “Our nation must do everything we can to protect our children from being sold over the internet for sex, and today is a huge step in that direction as our bill was signed into law – providing prosecutors and victims new tools to go after those who try to profit at the expense of some of the most vulnerable citizens in communities around the country. Today is also a major win for trafficking victims and their families— they deserve an immense amount of credit for their bravery to stand up and fight back— along with the tireless efforts of victims advocates—they simply said, ‘no more’.” For far too long, trafficking victims were deprived justice against websites like Backpage.com that knowingly enabled this form of modern-day slavery and profited off victims’ pain. These websites will now face punishment for their disgusting role in facilitating this vile trade. I’m proud of our bipartisan work to move this bill across the finish line, and we need to stay vigilant as we fight to end sex trafficking and sever the chains of victims in North Dakota and across the country.”
The legislation is the result of a two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) inquiry led by Portman and McCaskill, which culminated in a report entitled “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking.” The report found that Backpage knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits. The bill has widespread support among trafficking survivors, anti-human trafficking advocates and law enforcement, 50 Attorneys General, the civil rights community, faith-based groups, the larger tech community, and courts and judges who have made clear that it is Congress’ responsibility to act to protect sex trafficking victims.