FOSTA-SESTA was a bill passed in the United States late March 2018. FOSTA-SESTA stands for “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” and “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” respectively. The bill is suggested to be the biggest legal movement in the way of human trafficking in recent history. Since coming into law the bill has made waves across the internet.
Why it’s Important
FOSTA-SESTA is an important bill because it fills a gap in the previous Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This particular bill, established in 1996, was penned with the explicit purpose of making the legal system in the United States lenient toward the tech industry. Section 230, as it’s come to be known, stated that anyone who ran a website was not responsible for third party posters. As an example, if someone were to post a video of you jaywalking on YouTube, it is not YouTube’s responsibility to penalize you for jaywalking.
Therefore, sites such as the late backpage.com and craigslist’s (in)famous personals page were filled with posts from sex-traffickers without anyone being held accountable. Section 230 essentially allowed the internet to become the wild west that it is today.
FOSTA-SESTA came to inception primarily because of backpage.com. In 2016, executives of the website were arrested for pimping a minor, pimping and conspiracy to commit pimping. Prosecutors claimed that backpage.com had come to fruition with the intent of facilitating illegal sex-work. Though the claim was overruled in court due to Section 230.
Who Supported it
The bill was a bi-partisan agreement, meaning it was co-sponsored by both the democratic and republican party. Representative Mimi Walters of the Republican Party stated that websites such as backpage.com had become “store fronts” for sex-trafficking.
Advocacy groups such as the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking called this a “ground breaking bill”. The Coalition sees it as a positive means to bring justice to victims.
The bill has been getting support globally, as well. The UK is reportedly ready to pursue a similar act and has attracted many politicians. A group of members of the UK parliament have come together in a bi-partisan coalition to work toward banning any website having to do with sex-work.
Though many believe this bill is a step forward, there has been a lot of backlash. Many suggest that this will move sex-work from an online platform back to the streets. For the sex-worker who is making the choice to be in the industry it could make it more challenging for her/him to screen Johns, therefore, increasing vulnerability. It is suggested that pimps will be able to take advantage of the legislation by exploiting those who can no longer work independently without the aid of the internet.
Though there’s been a lot of talk about the bill, it was passed just less than six months ago making it difficult to say what the long term effects will be. We’re hoping that this will put a slow on human-trafficking, but there is still work to be done yet.