On Sept. 17, Ms. Yvonne Ambrose shared a heartbreaking story in front of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. She testified about her wonderful daughter, Desiree. She told us about how Desiree enrolled in JROTC because she dreamed of becoming a doctor in the United States Air Force. She wanted to help people.
Yvonne also told us about the last day of Desiree’s life. On Christmas Eve 2016, Desiree was brutally murdered by a 32-year-old man who “bought” her services on the internet from a pimp. Her mother stated, “She was only 16 years old and just wanted to make friends. We know now that adult men found Desiree on social media, reached out to her, pressured her, and used her to make money. Desiree didn’t know what Backpage.com was or the harm that would come from this website.”
For many years, the furthest reaches of the internet have enabled some of the worst predators in the world. Websites like Backpage.com have been allowed to operate while selling and exploiting people for profit. In fact, between January 2013 and March 2015, Backpage.com earned 99 percent of its profits from “adult advertisements.”
Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world. Like Desiree, these victims are often young women or children, sold online like pieces of property within increasingly organized networks. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of online child sex trafficking skyrocketed by more than 800 percent between 2010 and 2015. The cause for this incredible increase was noted to be “directly correlated to the increased use of the internet to sell children for sex.”
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), although intended to help ensure websites remain neutral platforms we can use freely, has inadvertently given broad protections to websites like Backpage.com, shielding them from any responsibility for the harmful and criminal content carried out by their users. The CDA was never written to facilitate the selling of children for sex, and we cannot continue to allow it to be used as a tool sheltering crime online.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee took action against this unconscionable practice by unanimously approving S. 1693, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). As a cosponsor of this important and bipartisan legislation, I could not be prouder of the committee. We must deploy every tool we have to stop human trafficking.
SESTA is narrowly crafted to provide clarity to Section 230 and would ensure websites that knowingly expedite sex trafficking can be held accountable in violation of federal sex trafficking laws. The bill also grants state law enforcement the authority to take action.
This legislation would hold the appropriate parties liable and give the victims of these horrible crimes the justice they deserve. The trafficking of young women and children in our society is an atrocity, and the internet can no longer be a place for perpetrators of these crimes to hide. I will be pushing for this legislation to move swiftly to the Senate floor for a vote.
We must protect our children from those who would use the internet to prey on them. The quicker we put this law on the president’s desk, the sooner the facilitators of these heinous crimes can be held accountable.