Trump Signs FOSTA, a Bipartisan Bill Targeting Online Sex Traffickers

By Liberty McArtor Published on April 11, 2018

Surrounded by survivors of sex trafficking, President Donald Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 on Wednesday morning.

Nicknamed FOSTA, the law holds to account websites that facilitate prostitution. (An earlier version of the bill was called SESTA, or Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act.) The bill easily passed both the House and Senate last month with bipartisan support.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, Trump thanked lawmakers who worked on the bill. He also thanked the survivors present. “I am signing this bill in your honor,” he said. “You’re very brave.”

Added the President, “We are going to do everything in our power to make sure that traffickers are brought to a swift and firm justice.”

Attendees included Yvonne Ambrose. Her 16-year-old daughter Desiree Robinson was brutally murdered in 2016 after a pimp sold her for sex on Backpage.com.

On the Heels of Backpage’s Demise

The signing comes less than one week after federal authorities shut down Backpage.

Backpage, a classifieds website notorious for prostitution ads, was the object of a two-year investigation by the Senate Homeland Security’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The subcommittee’s report last year revealed Backpage knowingly facilitated trafficking ads. Minors were regularly advertised for sex on the site.

A separate Washington Post exposé revealed that a Backpage contractor actively sought and promoted sex ads for the site. This contradicted the company’s prior claims.

The revelations led to the FOSTA legislation and Backpage’s shutdown.

On Monday, Backpage’s founders and other executives were charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering. Since its 2004 founding, Backpage brought in $500 million from prostitution-related ads.

Republicans and Democrats Celebrate

Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka has been deeply involved in the sex trafficking fight. She touted FOSTA in an early Wednesday tweet. The law, she said, “combats sex trafficking online, holds perpetrators accountable & ensures justice for survivors.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., celebrated FOSTA’s passing. “Today brings to a close an era when malicious actors like Backpage could hide behind an outdated law that gave them license to knowingly facilitate sex trafficking of children online.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called the signing “a big victory.” Portman is chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., “The tide is turning against online sex trafficking.”

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The FOSTA Law

Victims and law enforcement had brought multiple lawsuits against Backpage for years. But section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) ensured they were unsuccessful. The CDA protected websites from liability for users’ content. FOSTA amends that part of the legislation. Now, websites facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking can be held accountable. Law enforcement and sex trafficking victims will be able to bring civil and criminal suits against sites like Backpage.

Enough is Enough, a nonprofit that advocates internet safety, praised the signing Wednesday. The organization called it “a David and Goliath victory against the multi-billion dollar trafficking industry and the tech giants who lobbied against the bill’s passage.”

Some Groups Oppose FOSTA

Despite the bipartisan support for FOSTA, some groups actually oppose it. They argue it will harm sex workers. Speaking for Survivors Against SESTA, “Lola” spoke with Motherboard, a publication of Vice. She claimed sites liked Backpage allow prostitutes to stay off the streets.

As a result of FOSTA passing Congress, “Pimps are texting providers every day saying ‘the game’s changed. You need me,'” she said. The Women’s March also spoke against FOSTA and decried Backpage’s demise last week.

Many other survivors have spoken out against Backpage. Some are featured a documentary titled I Am Jane Doe. The film is now available on multiple platforms.

Last year, Congress found that 73 percent of child trafficking reports received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had a connection to Backpage. That figure excludes reports submitted by Backpage. The site regularly edited ads for child prostitution in order to avoid tipping off law enforcement.

“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,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Wednesday. “These websites will now face punishment for their disgusting role in facilitating this vile trade.”

Addressing survivors, Trump added Wednesday, “you are not alone.”

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