A letter from Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, 3rd District of Missouri

As parents we are constantly trying to protect our children. When they’re young we teach them to look both ways before crossing the street and not to talk to strangers.  As they get older the lessons change, but they never end. As time goes on, the threats also evolve.  So, with technology constantly growing how do we keep our children safe from the evolving online dangers?

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a question that parents across America face, but a problem the United States government has failed to solve. Congress has been woefully behind in modernizing laws to better reflect new technology, specifically as it relates to the dark web. In 2000, Congress explicitly recognized sex trafficking as a federal crime, yet online sex trafficking is still rapidly expanding.

Online trafficking is ever-evolving with new methods of recruitment and sale of sex trafficking victims. Unfortunately, while these traffickers continue to exploit new technology for their crimes, our laws have remained stagnant.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives took a huge step in the fight against online sex trafficking. I was proud to cosponsor and vote for the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act sponsored by fellow Missourian, Congresswoman Ann Wagner, when it passed the House with strong bipartisan support.

First and foremost, this important legislation will enhance criminal enforcement for websites that facilitate sex trafficking. Many websites have gotten away with facilitating this criminal behavior by claiming immunity due to a broad interpretation of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Under this new legislation, prosecutors will finally be given the necessary tools to enforce current law. The bill also creates a new law to prosecute websites that have an intent to promote or facilitate illegal prostitution. This includes websites that act with reckless disregard for the fact that sex trafficking occurs on their website, making them more accountable.

Not only does this legislation enhance criminal penalties and give prosecutors the tools they need to fight these horrendous crimes, but it also provides sex trafficking victims a pathway to sue bad actor websites. Our justice system owes survivors the ability to seek restitution from the websites that failed them, and thankfully justice will no longer be out of reach for these victims.

The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act will be transformative in the fight against online sex trafficking, and I was proud to join Congresswoman Ann Wagner on this critical legislation. I now urge my colleagues in the Senate to swiftly take up this bill to protect our children and children around the world.  We can and must work together to fight these terrible crimes and the monsters who facilitate them.