On the heels of a federal move to shut down the Backpage website, President Trump signed a bill on Wednesday that gives federal and state prosecutors greater power to pursue websites that host sex-trafficking ads and enables victims and state attorneys general to file lawsuits against those sites, the Washington Post reports.
Addressing the victims and family members, the president said, “I’m signing this bill in your honor. … You have endured what no person on Earth should ever have to endure … This is a great piece of legislation, and it’s really going to make a difference.”
The impact of the bill, nicknamed “FOSTA” for its title, “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” was already being seen as sites shut down sex-related areas and stopped accepting sex-related advertising.
The signing came after seven executives of Backpage.com were arrested on a 93-count indictment that alleges the website aided prostitution and laundered tens of millions of dollars in profits, and that teenage girls were sold for sex on the site. Some girls were killed. The government shut down Backpage’s classified ad websites around the world, and moved to seize houses and bank accounts.
Civil liberties advocates attacked the bill as too broad, creating liability for websites that had been protected by the Communications Decency Act for content posted by third parties. A number of websites, including Craigslist, began shutting down sections that might be construed as sex-related after the bill passed the Senate last month.
Sex workers and sex worker advocates have been criticizing the bill as depriving them of a safe place to screen customers, as well as removing a tool for law enforcement to track pimps, locate missing children and build criminal cases. Other civil rights groups, including the ACLU, have opposed the bill on the grounds that it will hinder free speech.