A push has begun to amend federal law in order to allow states and local authorities to investigate and prosecute websites which promote sex services online, such as Backpage.com.
In a letter sent on Tuesday, 49 attorney generals representing states in the mainland as well as Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands and Guam asked Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to combat the child sex trade in the country.
"Every day, children in the United States are sold for sex," the letter begins. "In instance after instance, state and local authorities discover that the vehicles for advertising the victims of the child sex trade to the world are online classified ad services, such as Backpage.com."
According to the letter from the National Association of Attorneys General, the CDA currently prevents local agencies from prosecuting companies known to promote sex online.
"It is ironic that the CDA, which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the Internet, is now used as a shield by those who intentionally profit from prostitution and crimes against children," the letter continued.
In previous cases, federal courts have broadly interpreted immunity provided under CDA. More recently, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington held that CDA preempts state criminal law.
The attorney generals argue that a change is necessary because they contend advertising of child prostitution is essentially unchecked because federal enforcement is not enough. Worse, the letter claims that the status quo is allowing sex traffickers to expand the trade and magnify the scope of the problem under current law.
In making the case for an amendment to the CDA, the authors cited three sex-trafficking operations linked to advertising on Backpage.com -- including one in Minnesota.
1. On March 28, Miami police arrested a man for advertising the sex services of a 13-year-old girl, and he had tattooed his name on the girl's eyelids to mark her as his property.
2. In January, two men were arrested in Virginia for prostituting four minors in Fairfax County after advertising the girls online.
3. On April 10, four family members and a woman were arrested for running a prostitution ring of eight girls and women between the ages of 15 and 40.
MN FAMILY CHARGED IN 2-YEAR SEX OPERATION: http://bit.ly/15glM4Q
In order to combat child sex trafficking, the attorney generals are requesting an amendment to add just two words -- "or State" -- to the existing law. The amended version of 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(1) would then read as follows:
"Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair the enforcement of section 223 or 231 of this title, chapter 71 (relating to obscenity) or 110 (relating to sexual exploitation of children) of Title 18, or any other Federal or State criminal statute."
The letter requesting the change was sent to the following lawmakers:
- U.S. Sen. John Rockefeller, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman
- U.S. Sen. John Thune, Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee ranking member
- U.S. Rep. Frederick Upton, Energy and Commerce Committee chairman
- U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson signed on to the request, but Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen did not. Attorney generals from the Connecticut and Virginia also did not sign the letter.