ALEXANDRIA, VA – Every day in America children are being sold for sex. Globally more than 1.8 million children are used in commercial sex. Trafficking has largely moved from the streets to the Internet where a flourishing global marketplace for child sex trafficking has emerged. The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children is joining 47 of the nation’s Attorneys General in calling on the U.S. Congress to make a minor change to the Communications Decency Act (CDA) that was passed in 1996 to help address this problem. They are asking for a two-word change that would enable state and local governments to pursue criminal action against online classified advertising sites suspected of being involved in prostitution.
In a letter delivered today by the National Association of Attorneys General, Congress is being asked to make the following change to 47 U.S.C. 230(3)(1):
“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. “
“State and local law enforcement are frequently finding that online classified ad services are being used to advertise children for sale in the U.S. and to the world. However, the CDA, which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the Internet, is now being used to escape prosecution by those who are victimizing children through prostitution and other crimes,” said Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children. “A minor amendment needs to be made to update the CDA to prevent that from happening.”
The CDA currently provides civil immunity and state criminal immunity to Internet content providers regarding the words and actions of those who post on their sites. However, many online classified ad sites have created an online marketplace for prostitution including child sex trafficking.
Each child victim lives in a community somewhere in the U.S. These are local crimes against children. Yet, state and local governments are precluded from pursuing criminal action against these sites because the online advertisers are using the CDA as a shield to avoid prosecution and prevent regulation.
Absent interstate travel, federal property, or the involvement of a minor, prostitution is not a federal crime. With the current application of the CDA, a gap exists in criminal enforcement regarding prostitution promoted on the Internet. A minor amendment is needed to the CDA to extend criminal jurisdiction, currently held solely by the federal government, to state and local governments. The change proposed by the Attorneys General would not affect mainstream online content providers, would not impact innovation on the Internet and would not affect the First Amendment.
The growth of the Internet has facilitated a global marketplace for child sex trafficking. Federal law enforcement has limitations regarding what it is able to do. The CDA that was passed in 1996 for the purpose of protecting children needs to be updated to fill the gap that exists in criminal enforcement of these crimes and local and state governments need to be granted the authority to investigate and prosecute these crimes. America’s children deserve no less.