The Senate will act soon to stop online child sex traffickers
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The 32-year old man who recruited their daughter had repeatedly raped and drugged her and forced her into the sex trade, where she was advertised online and sold for sex.

This story of a 15-year old girl being bought and then sold on the Internet shortly thereafter is one of thousands that occur every day throughout the U.S., in small towns and large cities, across every demographic and socioeconomic group. The wild west Internet and relative anonymity of its users who sell boys and girls online to a steady supply of buyers present a growing challenge to law enforcement. And the victims of this abhorrent practice have had little ability to fight back and receive the justice they deserve ... until now.

Online child sex traffickers and their “customers” are now facing an end to their immunity from prosecution and legal liability, as are the Internet platforms being used as a marketplace for the modern-day sex slave trade.

The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which is scheduled for a Senate vote as soon as today, is a modern-day political miracle. The bipartisan bill provides law enforcement with the tools necessary to fight online sexual predators, and to give states and human trafficking survivors the power to sue websites that facilitate trafficking. Last week, it passed the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming 388-25 vote, and it should sail through the Senate as well.

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing business of organized crime in the U.S., making nearly $32 billion a year for criminals while destroying tens of thousands of lives. Currently, there are more than 100,000 children in America who are victims of human trafficking.

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report last year on online sex trafficking in the U.S., saying sex trafficking has largely moved from the streets to the Internet, where traffickers maintain control of victims across state lines, avoid law enforcement, and make huge profits. The Internet also allows buyers to avoid detection by procuring victims with the click of a button. As of 2014, an estimated 70 percent of child sex trafficking victims were sold online.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has been used for years to block law enforcement and victims from holding human traffickers and websites accountable. This legislation will allow federal prosecutors to use state sex trafficking laws and promotion of prostitution laws to prosecute websites that are used to sell victims of trafficking, while also creating a new federal crime specifically designed for bad acting websites now engaged in the online sex trade.

The faith community and law enforcement, alongside a broad coalition of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, remains committed to protecting our most vulnerable. But online sex trafficking hubs and their corporate Big Tech protectors have tried to hide behind the smoke screen of censorship and the First Amendment to protect profits and provide safe haven for modern-day slave traders.

Last year, a coalition of anti-child sex trafficking and public interest groups, including the Faith and Freedom Coalition, examined the Center for Democracy & Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, two of the nonprofit organizations that have been fighting against changes to Section 230, to the benefit of Backpage.com (the leading online facilitator of the sale of trafficked children) and other online platforms for selling children. These two groups have received millions of dollars from gargantuan Big Tech firms like Google to lobby Congress, and millions more to defend online trafficking websites in court.

Fortunately, members of both parties have resisted the temptation of Big Tech and its well-oiled lobbying efforts and deep campaign coffers. This new legislation not only protects vulnerable victims of the online sex trade instead of profit and political donations, but it shines a light on online marketplaces contributing to the growing epidemic of sex trafficking in the U.S.

Congress and the president are on the cusp of supplying major reinforcement for law enforcement and others on the front lines combatting human trafficking. But we are not in the clear yet and government action alone will not stop sex trafficking, but passage of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act will better equip law enforcement, empower survivors, and ensure websites can no longer traffic victims for sex with impunity.

Tim Head is executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Kevin Malone is president of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking and former executive vice president of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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