Hoeven: Senate Passes Bipartisan Legislation to Help Prevent Online Sex Trafficking, Ensure Justice for Victims

Legislation Includes Hoeven-Cosponsored Provisions to Hold Websites Accountable for Intentionally Promoting Sex Trafficking

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today issued the following statement after the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to help prevent sex trafficking and ensure justice for victims. The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which was previously passed in the House of Representatives, includes key provisions from legislation that Hoeven cosponsored in the Senate, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). The legislation closes loopholes that websites like Backpage.com are exploiting and makes it a federal crime for to own, manage or operate a website with the intent to promote or facilitate prostitution and sex trafficking. The legislation has now passed both chambers of Congress and will go to the president to be signed into law.

“This legislation will help ensure that federal and state authorities will be able to hold websites accountable for engaging in prostitution and sex trafficking and provide victims with the restitution they deserve,” said Hoeven. “At the same time, the bill is narrowly crafted to protect websites that unknowingly host illegal content. Our legislation specifically targets websites and persons that have been abusing protections for online service providers in order to facilitate sex trafficking and will help bring those offenders to justice.”

The Hoeven-cosponsored provisions come as the result of a two-year inquiry conducted by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which found that Backpage.com knowingly and actively facilitated criminal sex trafficking of women and young girls and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits. Accordingly, the legislation passed today:

  • Expresses it is the sense of Congress that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was not intended to protect websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and contribute to sex trafficking.
  • Makes it a federal crime to own, manage or operate a website with the intent to promote or facilitate prostitution.
  • Allows enhanced penalties for websites that promote the prostitution of five or more persons or contribute to sex trafficking with reckless disregard.
  • Gives victims of sex trafficking a pathway to sue bad actor websites and provides mandatory restitution.
  • Allows state and local prosecutors to enforce sex trafficking statues, including the new federal crime created under this bill.
  • Ensures federal liability for websites like Backpage.com by amending federal anti-trafficking laws to clarify that knowingly assisting, supporting or facilitating sex trafficking constitutes a violation.

This legislation aligns with Hoeven’s work on the Senate Appropriations Committee to support state and local law enforcement and social service providers’ efforts to combat human trafficking. Among other things, the senator worked to secure a permanent Federal Bureau of Investigation presence in western North Dakota as well as annual funding for law enforcement training, equipment and personnel and victim services through the U.S. Department of Justice.