Law Makes Websites Liable for Sex Trafficking

Congress has passed a law holding websites criminally liable if they are used for sex trafficking.  In response, Craig’s List, Reddit, and other sites have shut down their ads for prostitution.

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) was passed on March 21, with overwhelming bi-partisan support.  The House passed it 388-25, and the Senate passed it 97-2.  The bill awaits President Trump’s signature.

But already the classified ads site Craig’s List shut down its “adult” “personal ads,” which, with its local sections, have become a major clearinghouse for prostitution.  Reddit has also changed its rules, disallowing promotion of “paid services involving physical sexual contact.”  Microsoft says it will also crack down on Skype and other platforms.  Other sex sites have shut down completely.

The law is being praised by those who are battling sex trafficking, defined by the Department of Homeland Security as “modern-day slavery” involving “the use of force, fraud, or coercion” in the sex trade.

But criticism has erupted online, claiming that the law will “ruin the internet” and “harm sex workers.” The complaints are coming from freedom-of-the-internet advocates, libertarians, and activists for the legalization of prostitution.  Some legal scholars think the law won’t pass constitutional muster.  And “sex workers” and those who patronize them are frustrated that the law will interfere with the sex industry.  One theme of the protests is that the law will take away “sexual freedom.”  Gays are lamenting that Craig’s List and similar sites is how gay men get together, with some fondly remembering “exploring their sexuality” by responding to the personal ads.

But if these sites are so innocent (so to speak), so consensual, about nothing more than people seeking people, they would not be in jeopardy from this bill.

The sites are shutting down because their masters know that the “sex industry”–from prostitution to pornography–is rife with slavery, child abuse, violence, and coercion.  Many “sex workers,” for example, are immigrants who have been promised a new life in America by smugglers, only to be forced into sex work to pay off the never-ending debt that incurs.  Read this and this and this.


Illustration:  U.S. Air Force graphic.  Public Domain.


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