SAN FRANCISCO — The Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLERP), has announced its condemnation of a draft bill circulating through Congress, which undercuts Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in the name of preventing sex trafficking.
According to the group, this bill does absolutely nothing to prevent sex trafficking and is the latest round of unconstitutional government bullying aimed at sites such as MyRedbook.com, Rentboy.com and Backpage (which shuttered its adult sections in January), making sex workers far less safe by forcing them off online advertising sites, and onto the streets or into situations where they are more vulnerable.
Section 230 of the CDA protects web publishers such as Facebook and Twitter and The New York Times, from being liable for third party content. The draft bill would create an exception to Section 230 for sex-trafficking offenses involving minors, and allows prosecutors to go after a site that unwittingly hosted content posted by anyone involved in the sex trafficking of minors, and would also allow any underage person who was paid for sex to sue a website even though it was indirectly involved.
“This is just the latest attempt to shut down online sex work advertising,” explains ESPLERP President Maxine Doogan. “It will not stop sex work. All it does is make sex workers less safe and vulnerable to violence and extortion.”
“For example, we know a 19-year-old sex worker who had a safe business advertising on Backpage, but when that closed she experienced a dramatic drop in income and found herself vulnerable to a client/boyfriend who is now feeding her Xanax and taking a cut of her fees,” Doogan added. “In effect, the governmental campaign against Backpage forced her into the arms of an exploiter.”
ESPLERP’s Claire Alwyne notes this bill will have a chilling effect on speech and will hurt so many parts of the digital economy.
“It will be a costly nightmare for sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram to monitor third party content to make sure there are coded posts for trafficking — and if they miss one instance they could be charged by prosecutors or sued by victims,” Alwyne said. “The social media platforms have kept low profiles so far — but they need to stand up and tell Congress to drop this bill.”
A petition opposing the draft bill can be signed here.