WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) – A Senate committee held its first hearing on Senator Rob Portman’s bill aimed at stopping online sex trafficking. Portman says his bill will hold websites accountable if they knowingly facilitate sex trafficking.
Yvonne Ambrose is a mom from Chicago. She said her 16-year-old daughter, Desiree, was murdered after being sold for sex on Backpage.com.
“If there were stricter rules in place, my child would be alive today.”
The National Center for Exploited and Missing Children says more than 80 percent of reported child trafficking happens online.
Portman said that’s why he introduced the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act,” or SESTA.
“As a dad of three kids, you can’t believe it’s happening in this country. It’s a stain on our national character, as far as I’m concerned.”
Portman wants to update the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from being liable for their users’ content.
The California Attorney General told Congress the 1996 law needs to allow states to prosecute sites that knowingly facilitate trafficking.
But not everyone is on board with this bill. The Internet Association, which represents tech giants like Google and Facebook, says SESTA will open the door for “frivolous lawsuits” against tech companies.
It says SESTA “introduces overly broad concepts of criminal and civil liability that creates legal uncertainty and risk for legitimate actors.”
Portman said companies that are not knowingly engaged in sex trafficking have nothing to worry about.
“They have to understand, there are bad actors out there who they are protecting by trying to block this legislation.”
Ambrose said traffickers are using the internet to make millions of dollars and begged Congress to act.
“Not only for my baby but for the protection of yours and others to come.”