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Advocates hopeful anti-sex trafficking measure will curb online exploitation

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) - Miami Valley advocates say a recently passed bill, co-sponsored by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) could be a step in the right direction in fighting online sex trafficking.

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) overwhelmingly passed 97-2 in the U.S. Senate after its U.S. House counterpart, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) was also approved. Now, the bill will head to the president's desk for a final signature.

The measure is intended to hold content providers accountable for knowingly allowing, promoting or hiding sex trafficking online. It's an amendment to the Communications Decency Act, which protected websites from liability for posts from third parties.

Tony Talbott, the interim executive director of the University of Dayton's Human Rights Center, called the approved restrictions part of the internet's "coming of age."

"We need to protect freedom of speech, we need to be careful of how this is fully implemented, but this is just common sense," Talbott said. "It can't just be the wild wild west and open with total lack of protections."

Talbott said research at the Human Rights Center found that websites like Backpage made up to $150 million in a single year from commercial sex advertising. 

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) was among the legislators who requested the Department of Justice investigate the website after the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations website knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls and covered up evidence of these crimes to increase its own profits.

READ MORE: Senators call for DOJ to investigate website for sex trafficking

Critics of the measure worry it could infringe on the internet's free exchange of speech and ideas. Others believe the tighter restrictions unfairly target content providers, rather than traffickers.

Talbott said the biggest priority should be protecting trafficking victims.

"For me, the potential future harm (to content providers) is more than outweighed by the real harm that's happening to thousands of men, women and children today," Talbott said.

For help with combating human trafficking, you can contact the following:

National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 888-373-7888

For more information, including resources, red flags and statistics, click here.


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