By Mimi Walters | Orange County Register
–Irvine, CA. Last year, Irvine made national news when authorities busted a large, multi-state sex trafficking ring that forced numerous young women into prostitution. Most of the victims came from China and Korea with limited English skills. The victims were subjected to physical assaults at the hands of their “customers” while being forced to produce at least $800 each day for the traffickers. These women were repeatedly exploited through thousands of advertisements on a website known as Backpage.com, which has a notorious history of facilitating sex trafficking with impunity.
Last week, along with Reps. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, and Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, I introduced legislation known as the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which would make it easier for prosecutors to crack down on websites that knowingly facilitate or promote sex trafficking, while providing legal recourse for victims of these heinous crimes.
I am proud this legislation includes an amendment I authored, which would allow sex trafficking victims to bring civil charges against the websites that knowingly facilitated their abuse. Commonly known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, the Walters amendment is an important tool that allows trafficking survivors to seek justice in the courts.
The network of businesses, homes, and hotels used to facilitate the Irvine sex trafficking ring was expansive. However, the use of online platforms allowed the operation to grow exponentially. In fact, one prosecutor working the case called the ring the “Uber of sex trafficking.” An Orange County trafficking victims advocate stated that each ad posted to Backpage.com can produce between five and 25 “dates” per night.
Since my time in the California state Legislature, I have worked to end this barbaric modern day slave trade. While major sex trafficking rings have been uncovered across the country, fighting those who knowingly facilitate this online activity has been a tremendous challenge. Sadly, victims are often unable to seek justice because existing law unintentionally shields those who knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking.
FOSTA and the Walters amendment would update these laws to hold bad actors accountable for crimes they knowingly promote on their website. This legislation also maintains important safeguards to protect third-party content hosts who act in good faith and routinely monitor inappropriate or illegal activity on their websites.
The modern day slave trade of human sex trafficking is rampant through cities and towns in every state in our nation. It must be stopped. Thanks to broad bipartisan support, we are taking a major step toward achieving this goal and giving new hope to survivors across the country.