Companies Must Do More To Protect Women & Girls From Being Sold Online For Sex

By Tara Carey, Equality Now

In the United States, the Internet is now the most frequently used platform that traffickers and “johns” use to buy and sell women and children for sex. 63% of child sex trafficking survivors are advertised online and more than 100,000 escort ads are published online every day in the US, often on websites that facilitate trafficking, such as classified advertising website Backpage.com.

Despite legal protections against sexual exploitation and prostitution, the “adult” advertisements posted under “escorts” and “body rubs” are thinly disguised advertisements for commercial sex. These “adult” sections on mainstream classified websites normalize easy, anonymous ways for traffickers and pimps to recruit, market and deliver women and girls as commodities for sexual exploitation.

Traffickers, pimps, the “buyers” of commercial sex, and websites hosting “adult” advertisements all profit from this exploitation. They also fuel the demand for sex trafficking and exploitation in this multi-billion dollar illegal enterprise.

Sex trafficking violates basic human rights, including the rights to bodily integrity, equality, dignity, health, security, and freedom from violence and torture. It can cause life-long harm, severe emotional trauma, increased vulnerability to sexually-transmitted infections and forced pregnancies.

Girls and women subjected to sex trafficking are often saddled with criminal convictions which limit their access to employment and educational opportunities, often forcing them back into prostitution. The $99 billion dollar sex trafficking industry is not going to dismantle itself. Non-state actors, including private companies, must work together to end the scourge of sex trafficking and we need support from every sector.

In the US, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 is a proposed amendment to the Communications Decency Act (CDA) Section 230. The bill arises from a two-year inquiry by the homeland security subcommittee into Backpage.com.

The resulting report found that Backpage.com knowingly aided criminal sex trafficking of women and children on its website, with employees being instructed to delete flagged keywords associated with trafficking — such as “Lolita,” “rape,” amber alert”, and “teenage”— to conceal the true nature of ads before publishing them online.

Backpage.com has been targeted in a number of lawsuits over recent years, and has successfully defended itself by citing Section 230 of the decency act, which states that websites cannot “be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

The new legislation being proposed would open up legal avenues for state prosecutors and victims to take steps against social networks, websites and online advertisers that fail to act sufficiently against users who post exploitative content.

It does this by seeking to clarify Section 230 to “eliminate federal liability protections for websites that assist, support, or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking law.” It also aims to “enable state law enforcement officials, not just the federal Department of Justice, to take action against individuals or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.”

Liability would be imposed for knowingly assisting and facilitating online sex trafficking, and civil suits related to sex trafficking would be allowed. The bill is running into vigorous opposition from technology companies and digital rights groups that argue that it excessively holds companies responsible for user-generated content.

Last week, leading cloud service company Oracle broke rank with other tech giants, by endorsing the legislation. International human rights organization Equality Now is committed to ending demand for sex trafficking on the streets and on the Internet. We thank and applaud Oracle for their smart and public support of this bill and hope other tech companies will follow their lead in taking a stand against the sale of trafficked women and children online for sex.

 

 

About Equality Now:

Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy.

Our international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sex trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage.

For more information about Equality Now’s ongoing work to protect women and girls from sexual violence please go www.equalitynow.org or follow us on Twitter @equalitynow.

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