Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act allows State AGs to go after websites promoting advertisements for the sale of human trafficking victims
Marquette, Mich.– 04/11/2018 – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today joined President Donald Trump in the Oval Office for the signing of a new federal law that allows state attorneys general to sue and charge advertisers who allow advertisements for human trafficking. Human trafficking has been one of Schuette’s primary initiatives since taking office in 2011.
Titled Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act or “FOSTA”, the new law will give state attorneys general, county prosecutors, and sex trafficking survivors an easier path to legal action against websites promoting advertisements for commercial sex encounters, such as recently shuttered Backpage.com. Anti-human trafficking advocates have long pointed to these websites as profiting from sex trafficking, including the sex trafficking of children.
Schuette today praised President Trump’s actions, calling the new law an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking and websites that participate in the buying and selling of children and other trafficking victims. Under FOSTA, state and local prosecutors can now charge website operators for “promotion or facilitation of prostitution” in state court.
“In my time as Attorney General, I have taken many steps to stop human trafficking and have worked with my law enforcement partners to pursue swift and decisive action against those who are engaged in this modern form of slavery,” said Schuette. “Before President Trump signed today’s bill into law, anti-trafficking laws couldn’t be used to go after websites that offered advertising for children being sold for sex. Now we can, and will, use these laws to shut down those that profit from the slavery of others.”
Angela Aufdemberge is President and CEO of Vista Maria, a Dearborn-based non-profit agency that provides treatment, education, and care for at-risk girls and children. Aufdemberge advocates for legislation to protect victims of human trafficking as well as to provide survivors with needed physical and mental health services that aid healing and restoration.
“FOSTA legislation takes an important first step to curtail the use of the internet to aid commercial sexual exploitation and to prosecute facilitators. It is vital that we advocate for legislation that protects our children from websites that promote sex acts,” said Aufdemberge. “Traffickers commonly force or coerce youth to create postings and these manipulated youth need to be protected and the traffickers and platform providers should be held accountable.”
WHAT THE NEW LAW DOES TO HELP VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING
With FOSTA signed into law, website owners can no longer claim that they are unaware that human trafficking advertisements are appearing on their website or that they cannot prevent them from appearing.
The new law does the following:
- Amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both—on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.
- Establishes enhanced penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 25 years, or both—for a person who commits the offense in one of the following aggravating circumstances: (1) promotes or facilitates the prostitution of five or more persons, or (2) acts with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking.
- Allows a person injured by an aggravated offense may recover damages and attorneys’ fees in a federal civil action.
- Requires a court to order restitution, in addition to other criminal or civil penalties, for an aggravated offense in which a person acts with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking.
- Allows a defendant to assert, as an affirmative defense, that the promotion or facilitation of prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction where it was targeted.
- Amends the Communications Act of 1934 to declare that section 230 does not limit: (1) a federal civil claim for conduct that constitutes sex trafficking, (2) a federal criminal charge for conduct that constitutes sex trafficking, or (3) a state criminal charge for conduct that promotes or facilitates prostitution in violation of this bill.
- Provides that the amendments apply regardless of whether alleged conduct occurs before, on, or after this bill’s enactment.
- Amends the federal criminal code to define a phrase related to the prohibition on sex trafficking. Currently, it a crime to knowingly benefit from participation in a venture that engages in sex trafficking. This bill defines “participation in a venture” to mean knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating a sex trafficking violation.
- Allows a state to file a federal civil action to enforce federal sex trafficking violations and does not limit federal or state civil actions or criminal prosecutions that are not preempted by section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934.
- Requires the Government Accountability Office report to Congress on information related to damages and mandatory restitution for aggravated offenses under this bill.
PROTECTING VICTIMS, STOPPING TRAFFICKING IN MICHIGAN
Created by reallocating resources in the Attorney General’s Criminal Division, Schuette’s Human Trafficking Unit has placed an increased focus on combating human trafficking in Michigan, a priority Schuette identified upon taking office. The unit works closely with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to uncover and prosecute cases of modern-day slavery involving both children and adults.
In addition to the law enforcement aspect, Schuette has also been a leader nationally as part of the National Attorneys General Association’s Pillars of Hope anti-trafficking initiative, and in Michigan where the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission is housed in the Department of Attorney General. The Michigan Human Trafficking Commission has recommended and promoted legislation that has been signed into law to protect victims of human trafficking.
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