Attorneys general sign onto letter urging Congress to act
SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today led a nationwide effort to urge Congress to pass legislation that would help prevent children from being trafficked on the Internet.
The letter, co-sponsored by Ferguson and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and signed by 53 state and territorial attorneys general, asks the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to approve the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act.
The SAVE Act, Senate Bill 2536, would provide more oversight of websites that offer “adult services,” such as Backpage.com.
“The facts about online child sex trafficking are as shocking as they are heartbreaking,” Ferguson said. “It’s within Congress’ power to take a huge step toward ending that. I join with my fellow attorneys general in urging them to do the right thing.”
In just one week this June, police arrested 281 alleged sex traffickers and rescued 168 children from prostitution in a nationwide FBI crackdown against people who offered child victims for sale on “escort” and other “adult services” websites.
Tomorrow, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether a lawsuit against Backpage.com by three victims of child sex trafficking can go forward. The children argue the site effectively helps promote the victimization of children. Ferguson filed an amicus brief in support of the children last month.
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating about $150 billion each year. There are numerous cases nationally of children being used in prostitution as young as 12. The FBI estimates that nearly 300,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Ferguson said federal courts have recognized that the Internet has become a favored means for advertising the availability of children for sex. Internet ads can be purchased in multiple locations with the click of a mouse.
Using the Internet, human traffickers maximize profits and evade detection by moving victims quickly to lucrative venues where there is significant demand for commercial sex. Organized crime and street gangs use the Internet to sell their victims as well, which is why passage of the SAVE Act is particularly critical, Ferguson added.
The use of the “adult services sections” on websites such as Backpage.com has created virtual brothels where children are bought and sold using euphemistic labels such as “escorts.” The SAVE Act would require these websites that are enabling trafficking through their very business model to take steps to verify the identity of individuals posting advertisements and the age of those who appear in them.
Preventing kids from being trafficked on the Internet has been a long-term interest of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). NAAG has taken several actions regarding Backpage.com and similar websites, including requesting that these exploitive websites shut down their “adult services” sections which fuel the online trafficking of youth.
The states and territories that signed today’s letter are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Alison Dempsey-Hall, Acting Communications Director