AG Hawley Urges Congress to Amend Sex Trafficking Law

Aug 16, 2017, 17:40 PM
Aug 16, 2017, 17:38 PM

Jefferson City, Mo. — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley joined 49 other state and territorial attorneys general in a bi-partisan coalition urging Congress to affirm that all law-enforcement agencies retain their traditional authority to fight sex trafficking. In a letter to Congress, the attorneys general ask representatives to amend the Communications Decency Act (CDA) to clarify that the statute does not preempt state and territorial criminal laws. The simple revision proposed in the letter would ensure that federal law does not inadvertently interfere with the prosecution of sex trafficking and other serious crimes by state and local law enforcement. 

“Human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world--and the fastest growing,” Hawley said. “The broad coalition of attorneys general signing this letter affirm that state and local officials have a duty to fight the scourge of trafficking, and that federal law should not get in the way of those efforts.”
As the letter explains, in passing the CDA, Congress did not intend to place online facilitators and promoters of human trafficking beyond the reach of state and local law enforcement. Nevertheless, some courts have interpreted the CDA broadly to preempt certain state-law actions, including those brought against, whose role in human trafficking is subject to an ongoing investigation by Attorney General Hawley. 

“Federal enforcement alone has proved insufficient to stem the growth in online promotion of child sex trafficking. 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,” reads the letter, which was led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine. 

In a separate letter to Congress, Attorney General Hawley emphasized that, even under the CDA’s current text, the statute does not preempt state-law actions against websites that actively participate in illegal activity, such as by soliciting, creating, or promoting illegal content. As Attorney General Hawley explained, extensive evidence gathered by his ongoing investigation of has revealed that Backpage plays an active and direct role in the illegal content featured on its website, and thus Backpage cannot rely on the CDA’s protections, even absent the revisions proposed by the multistate letter.

The multistate letter is available here.