TOPEKA – (March 22, 2018) – The new federal Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) will make clear that states may use their traditional criminal investigation and prosecution authority to combat human trafficking facilitated by internet websites, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said today.
The legislation yesterday passed the U.S. Senate after winning approval by the U.S. House of Representatives last month. It now will be sent to the president, who is expected to sign it into law.
Congressional passage of this legislation is the culmination of a five-year effort by state attorneys general and others to bring justice for victims of online human trafficking.
In a letter to Congressional leaders last August, Schmidt, along with the attorneys general of 49 other states and territories, asked that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) be amended to make clear that state, territorial, and local authorities retain their traditional jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute those who facilitate criminal acts, including human trafficking, by means of an Internet website. In recent years, some judges have broadly interpreted the CDA to preempt state and local authority in this area and to provide immunity to websites that promote online sex trafficking.
Schmidt and the other attorneys general had begun their advocacy for Congress to change the CDA as long ago as 2013.
At issue are websites, such as Backpage.com, that are known to facilitate and profit from illegal activities advertised through their site.
“At long last, the shield of federal immunity will be lifted from these website operators who profit by promoting human trafficking and related crimes on their platforms,” Schmidt said. “No longer will these website operators be able to hide behind federal law to keep state criminal investigations at bay.”
The bill also creates a new federal crime for using or operating “a means of interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.” This section of the bill is known as the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).
The federal bill is H.R. 1865.