Sex trafficking seems to be growing in the United States as suspected child abductions and sex crimes are on the rise. Between 2010 and 2015, reports to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children have increased by over 800 percent.
This sharp increase seems to be a result of the growing prevalence of the internet. Criminals are now using it as a platform to sell children online at an alarming rate. As social media gains more and more influence, unfortunately, sex offenders gain the ability to use online spaces like chat rooms to lure in kids. Sadly, most of the children at risk of being trafficked also happen to be runaways, which can make it more difficult to protect them.
Within the five-year span of the reports, it soon became clear that one website was receiving the majority of the profits from this vicious enterprise. Backpage, an online classified ads site, was not only colluding with members of the sex-trafficking business but was caught both actively participating in selling children and covering up these attacks to make a profit. The site was also found to be promoting sex-related ads to attract potential customers.
While victims of the site’s actions have attempted to take action, it has been protected for years by the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that was initially passed to safeguard women and children.
A 2016 court case involving three women who were sold into sex slavery when they were only 15 brought this to light when the country’s legal system failed them. While judge and jury alike wanted justice for their suffering, the general opinion was that “the remedy is through legislation, not litigation.”
After noticing the flaws in the system intended to prevent these heinous crimes, Richard Blumenthal and Rob Portman, senators from Connecticut and Ohio, are seeking swift change in order to reduce the number of victimized children before this becomes a national epidemic.
The two currently sit as co-chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking. They, along with 26 of their other political colleagues, have drafted and proposed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. This act remedies the mistakes in the Communications Decency Act and will allow more victims to go after the online companies that have exploited them. It also gives the state law enforcement license to prosecute already existing sex traffickers without violating previous laws.
Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers is a bipartisan decision, showing that this issue is above party loyalty and politics. The act has already received positive feedback and support from human rights and anti-trafficking agencies. Congress has an opportunity to make a real difference here, and give some hope back to the children from whom it has been taken.
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