Washington, D.C. -- President Trump signed into law a landmark, bipartisan anti-sex trafficking bill Wednesday championed by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, and recently passed 97-2 by the Senate. The law is the result of McCaskill’s years-long pursuit of justice against Backpage and companies like it, that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking—to ensure they can be held liable and brought to justice.
“Today brings to a close an era when malicious actors like Backpage could hide behind an outdated law that gave them license to knowingly facilitate sex trafficking of children online,” said McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor. “For nearly two years, Senator Portman and I investigated a powerful company that went all the way to the Supreme Court to resist our investigation and prevent us from making public the damning findings that could arm local prosecutors and law enforcement. With our landmark, bipartisan law now on the books—survivors can now access the justice they deserve, and we’re better able to prevent websites like Backpage from claiming any more innocent victims.”
Congress recently passed the landmark bipartisan anti-sex trafficking legislation championed by McCaskill. McCaskill’s bipartisan legislation will clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) to ensure that websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking can be held liable so that victims can get justice. Backpage has escaped accountability for years by twisting the CDA as currently written into blanket immunity, which the narrowly-crafted legislation seeks to prevent from ever happening again.
The legislation was the result of a nearly two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations inquiry, led by McCaskill, a former sex crimes prosecutor, and Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, which culminated in a report entitled “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” and found that Backpage knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits. McCaskill has offered to share the more than a million pages of materials from the investigation with local prosecutors and law enforcement.
In the last week, the Department of Justice seized Backpage, and announced seven company executives were charged in a 93-count federal indictment with the crimes of conspiracy to facilitate prostitution, among other offenses. McCaskill joined with Senator Portman and Senator Tom Carper of Delaware in recommending the Department of Justice investigate Backpage following the nearly two-year Senate investigation into the website. The senators told the Department of Justice that “there is reasonable cause to believe that violations of law may have occurred.”
McCaskill and Senator Portman’s investigation led to the Senate’s 96-0 passage of a resolution authorizing a lawsuit against the company—the first such action in 20 years—after the company refused to turn over documents responsive to the Senators’ requests. That historic lawsuit also led to the Supreme Court’s denial of Backpage’s request to stay the U.S. District Court’s order to comply with the Senate’s subpoena.
Senators Portman and McCaskill, the chairman and ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations during the 114th Congress, began their bipartisan investigation of Internet sex trafficking in April 2015. With estimated annual revenues of more than $150 million, Backpage is a market leader in commercial sex advertising and has been linked to hundreds of reported cases of sex trafficking, including the trafficking of children.
Visit mccaskill.senate.gov/backpage to see more about McCaskill’s bipartisan investigation.