Olens: Congress Should Give Us Tools To Fight Child Sex Trafficking On The Internet

Attorney General Sam Olens joined 49 attorneys general (who are the holdouts I wonder?) to call on Congress to give them the authority to fight child sex trafficking on the internet. From the press release:

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was drafted when the internet was in its infancy. The original purpose of the Act was to protect children from accessing indecent material online, but courts have interpreted certain provisions of the Act in a way that provides online classified ad sites immunity from State prosecution. Under this protection, sites such as Backpage.com have knowingly created an online marketplace for prostitution and, consequently, child sex trafficking. Local prosecutors report that prostitution solicitations have largely moved online. Such sites are extremely lucrative. Backpage.com, for example, generates an estimated $3 million to $4 million per month in revenue.

“It is ironic that the CDA, which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the internet[1], is now used as a shield by those who intentionally profit from prostitution and crimes against children,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter.

The proposed amendment is narrowly crafted to combat this conduct. Absent interstate travel, federal property or the involvement of a minor, prostitution is not a federal crime. The proposal would remove a loophole that had denied state and local jurisdiction over online classified ads, including those for prostitution and child sex trafficking. By maintaining civil immunity, mainstream online content providers will not be affected, and innovation on the internet will be preserved. If the amendment is enacted, state and local governments will have the ability to criminally investigate whether these sites and their management are culpable for aiding and abetting prostitution or other similar crimes.

“Traffickers have taken advantage of loopholes in the current law to sexually exploit children on the internet,” said Olens. “A majority of the victims recovered by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, for example, have been advertised on Backpage.com at some point. As the tactics used by traffickers evolve, we must ensure that the law is modernized to effectively combat this heinous crime.”

I applaud AG Olens for joining this effort and hope the Congress will take action soon.


  1. Jackster says:

    So let me understand this: Olens, who is an AG, sees a part of our culture he does not have juristiction over, and then asks congress to put it in scope.

    If that’s the case, then why don’t they regulate the bejezus out of classified boards? Oh, is that because it’s word of mouth? It’s against the republican band stand to regulate anything?

    I fail to see how this move would actually help child sex trafficking – it seems more like taking a horrible consequence of our society, turning it into an issue (when it’s not), and then trying to figure out how to use it to your advantage.

    I would urge any politicians to stop exploiting children who are being exploited by sex traffickers, but stop exploiting this issue for their political gain.

    Seriously, it seems like with most issues, there are legitimate reasons this happens, a coalition of circumstances that lead to an environment for this sort of thing, but no real analysis and/or progress from our leaders on this issue.

    This presser distraction from the fact that our leadership hasn’t really done anything to protect children, or to root them out of the prostitution supply market.

    • I think you’re missing the point. Pimps are advertising on sites like Backpage and a loophole in federal law prohibits the States doing anything about it. If you read the letter they sent to Congress, the AGs are asking for two words to be added to the Communications Decency Act: “and State.”

      So rather than asking for a massive federal program or for a new federal law prohibiting prostitution, the AGs are simply asking Congress to get out of the way and let them do their jobs. Seems like a good solution to me.

      Also, the State of Georgia has done a number of things over the past several years to fight CSEC and human trafficking. Search this site and you’ll see plenty of posts about it.

      • Jackster says:

        I’m not sure you get the point – classifieds will exist whether or not olens can “police” backpage.

        And even if he could, what would he want to do to it? That’s what I dont’ see here – you’re making an issue out of something you couldn’t even enforce if you wanted to.

        So, why don’t you just legalize prostitution, tax it, and regulate it? That would keep kids out, wouldn’t it?

        • ofitall says:

          Jackster, you’re right. There will never be enough man-power to “regulate” this. But you have to understand that there are people who get into prostitution not of their own free will. Some are sold into it but a family, a friend, or boyfriend. Others are picked off the street. In saying this, no, legalizing prostitution would not keep kids out of it. In fact…it might make it worse.

    • George Chidi says:

      There’s no uncomplicated, morally-pure position to take on this issue, and anyone who says there is is lyin’ like hell. I have tremendous respect for Buzz for wading into this fraught mess.

      The issue is the common carrier rule. Suppose for sake of discussion that you could get this kind of information — plainly-understood “coded” messages about illicit and illegal underage sex — from a phone chat line. It might be easy enough to prosecute the owner of the line. But you can’t sue the phone company — they’re a “common carrier” in the legal sense, and not legally responsible for the content of a phone call.

      The CDA and its ruling blur that line. Backpage claims safe harbor status because they’re exercising no editorial control over their clients’ communications.

      I’ve been writing about online free speech and Internet security for about 15 years — it’s about the only single subject I’ve had a thread on consistently. And it’s a twisted, complicated mess. If the legal hole that allows Backpage to be shut down is closed in a haphazard way, ISPs are going to start subjecting every potential Internet client to a risk analysis to keep from being sued by overzealous state prosecutors looking for a way to knock objectionable material off the Internet. The cost to the public, if this is screwed up, is real and significant.

      I trust Olens to use this authority appropriately (shocker, but he’s the one Republican I voted for last time.) However, the AG of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, is a giant tool and would happily use this kind of authority to harass the site administrator of Planned Parenthood or similar organizations.

      I’m a reflexive defender of free speech. The test of that requires imagining the worst filth you can, and then intellectually building a case to defend it. But Backpage is a diseased cesspool. Craigslist is the edge. Backpage is what’s beyond the edge.

      I suspect that changing the wording on the CDA, even to allow state prosecutors to go after Backpage, is going to result in the rule being tossed on appeal on first amendment grounds.

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