Authorities are hoping for help from Washington in their efforts to prosecute companies that are producing online ads that traffic women and children.
At issue is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The original purpose of the CDA was to shield children from pornography, but the section in question was added in conference with the U.S. House. The wording of Section 230, wildly interpreted by the courts, has been used by Internet companies to protect themselves against prosecution.
Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) this week introduced H.R. 1865, which would amend the law so that owners of the websites can be held responsible. Haley Halverson of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation explains why her organization is onboard with Wagner's bill.
"[This law] has been used to shield online facilitators of sex trafficking," she laments, adding that it has become a huge and pervasive problem. "It's no secret that sex trafficking and prostitution have extended online in today's digital age – and it's time for our laws to do the same."
According to the NCOSE, online traffickers are largely operating with immunity thanks to the courts' interpretation.
"Law enforcement recognizes that it's a problem on these websites. Elected officials recognize that it's a problem on these websites," she states. "But this law – as it currently stands and as it's been currently interpreted – is standing in the way of holding those websites accountable."
NCOSE is urging Congress to pass the Wagner bill swiftly, putting their concern for the victims of sex trafficking above the immunities being granted to sex-trafficking websites.