For years, classified advertising websites like Backpage.com, Craigslist, eBay Classifieds, Eros, Massage Troll, Cityxguide and others have become a primary channel for sex trafficking. These internet companies provide a forum for anonymous individuals to sell or solicit prostitution, as well as sex trafficking of children.
Until now, these online companies have been shielded from criminal and civil liability arising out of sex trafficking facilitated through their websites. Relying on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which provides broad immunity to “interactive computer services,” companies like Backpage.com and others have consistently been found by courts to be immune from criminal or civil liability. Courts have consistently held that Section 230 of the CDA barred such lawsuits.
Internet Companies Facilitating Sex Trafficking No longer Immune from Liability
This week, Congress overwhelmingly acted (Senate passed Bill 97-2) to pass the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which makes websites liable for ads and internet posts involving child sex trafficking and prostitution. President Trump is expected to sign the Act into law.
The backstory to the passage of this law involves a 20-month Congressional Investigation into Backpage.com. Investigators found Backpage knowingly facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking” consistent with a July 2017 Washington Post article revealing that a contractor for Backpage was aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads.
This new law will give victims of child sex trafficking and their families the ability to sue companies that knowingly facilitate the crime. In addition to imposing criminal liability, the new law also allows victims of sex trafficking to recover damages in civil lawsuits against internet companies that promote or facilitate sex trafficking.
Specifically, the new law provides as follows under Section 2421A(b) and (c):
Whoever uses or operates a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person and—
(1) promotes or facilitates the prostitution of 5 or more persons;
(2) acts in reckless disregard of the fact that such conduct
contributed to sex trafficking, in violation of 1591(a),
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 25
years, or both.
(c) CIVIL RECOVERY.—Any person injured by reason of a violation
of section 2421A(b) may recover damages and reasonable attorneys’
fees in an action before any appropriate United States district court.
Consistent with section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47
U.S.C. 230), a defendant may be held liable, under this subsection,
where promotion or facilitation of prostitution activity includes responsibility
for the creation or development of all or part of the information
or content provided through any interactive computer
Passen & Powell represents sexual abuse survivors in civil actions against corporations and other entities that promote or enable the abuse to occur. For a Free Consultation with one of our top-rated attorneys, call us at 312-527-4500.