President Donald Trump signed a measure Wednesday that many hope will curb online sex trafficking. The measure, a rare bipartisan victory in Washington, aims to hold websites that participate in online trafficking accountable. While there are no official numbers on the amount of men, women and children, who are victims of sex trafficking, a study by advocacy group Polaris puts the number in the “hundreds of thousands.”
“We’ve already interrupted 87% of the global ad volume,” bill sponsor, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) said. ” Thirty-plus websites and online platforms have either shut down or had major policy changes.” The bill’s signing comes after months of websites either changing their policy or shutting down their personal ad sections completely, in anticipation of the law’s enactment.
“This legislation is going to give prosecutors the tools that they need to make sure that no online website, platform, business can ever reach the size and scope of Backpage.com,” Wagner said.
A 93-count indictment against website Backpage.com was announced the Department of Justice last Monday. Carl Ferrer, the CEO of the company, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering in connection with human trafficking. He will not spend more than five years in prison.
“Women and children that have been sold with impunity by Backpage for 15 years,” Wagner added. It just has moved “from the streets to the Internet.”
“People can order up little girls to a hotel room as easy as they could takeout,” she said, adding that there has been an 846% increase in reports of sex trafficking crimes over the last five years.
While praising the bill’s signing, the Missouri Republican believes that an “awareness deficit” exists and made clear her intention was to seek partnership with the hospitality and transportation industries, as well as visitor bureaus and educators, in order to combat the epidemic.
Wagner says her next move is to get a version of the framework implemented in all fifty states, a goal she considers difficult, but attainable. “It’s hard to do big things. I’ve passed a lot of bills — this was hard. And to do hard things, it takes a lot of grit and gumption a little grace from God,” she said.
Photo by Shealah Craighead via The White House