Attorneys General Urge Changes in Law to Prosecute Human Trafficking
Child Sex Traffickers Are Worst Offenders
The attorneys general for Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. are joining an effort to amend federal laws to empower state and local authorities to prosecute human traffickers.
A letter sent in August 2015 by 50 state attorneys general to Congress urged federal lawmakers to change the Communications Decency Act, primarily so local authorities can investigate and prosecute online sex trafficking.
They say that one obstacle to stopping human trafficking is the expansive reach of the Internet, where solicitations for sex can be posted anonymously.
The government’s primary tool for halting child sex trafficking over the Internet has been the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Congress passed the Act in 1996 to regulate pornography on the Internet.
Several lawsuits have challenged the law, saying it violates free speech provisions of the First Amendment. In the 1997 case of Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-indecency provisions of the Act.
Other court decisions have created uncertainties about whether the federal law can be enforced only by federal law enforcement agencies or whether it also authorizes local and state prosecutions. The uncertainties prompted the letter last week from Coffman and other state attorneys general.
Federal enforcement alone has proved insufficient to stem the growth in online promotion of child sex trafficking, the letter says. Those on the front lines of the battle against the sexual exploitation of children – state and local law enforcement – must have clear authority to investigate and prosecute facilitators of these and other horrible crimes.
It is both ironic and tragic that the CDA, which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the Internet, is now used as a shield by those who profit from prostitution and crimes against children, the attorneys general wrote.
In March, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a task force to work with vulnerable children after she received warnings from teachers and relatives that too many teenaged girls had disappeared. Bowser said she was concerned some of them might be abused as child sex slaves.
Bowser said she would assign more police officers to find the children and dedicate more money to nonprofit organizations that work with vulnerable teenagers.