Chairman Goodlatte: Unfortunately, while the growth of the Internet and smartphones has proved to be of great value in many aspects of our lives, it has also been used by criminals to facilitate the commercial exploitation of children and other victims by providing an easy way for pimps, or traffickers, to market minor sex trafficking victims to potential purchasers who seek to do them harm. With the click of a button, individuals can now use websites to advertise, schedule, and purchase sexual encounters with minors, just like they would use these services to rent a car or order a pizza.
The SAVE Act, introduced by Ms. Wagner from Missouri, makes a technical clarification to an existing federal sex trafficking statute, 18 U.S.C. 1591, to make clear that the law extends to traffickers who knowingly sell sex with minors and victims of force, fraud, or coercion through advertising, as well as to people or entities that knowingly benefit from the sale or distribution of such advertising.
While much of the growth of this terrible crime is on the Internet, this bill is technology neutral and applies to all advertising of children for sex, regardless of the medium. It is important to note that the bill clarifies the liability for the people, or traffickers, who place these ads, as well as the people and entities that knowingly profit from them. It is also important to note that these advertisements, as with all ads and other speech promoting illegal activity, are not protected speech under the First Amendment.
Furthermore, in order to bring a case against a trafficker under this legislation, the government must prove that the defendant knew they were advertising, and knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that the ad involved a minor or someone involved through force, fraud, or coercion. However, this legislation raises the bar even higher for defendants who – while not directly placing the ads – do knowingly benefit from the placement of advertising. Specifically, the bill requires the government to show that these defendants knew the advertisement involved a minor or a coerced adult. Reckless disregard is not sufficient.
H.R. 4225 clarifies that people who advertise sex trafficking can face criminal liability. Under current law, there is the additional possibility of civil liability for defendants who violate the primary sex trafficking statute, codified at Section 1591. However, under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, online publishers of third-party advertisements are generally immune from civil liability for such advertisements. H.R. 4225 does nothing to disrupt or modify the immunity already provided by Section 230.
While this legislation will help put more child traffickers in jail where they belong, this is not a precedent setting bill. Congress has regulated advertisements, including online advertisements, many times. There are hundreds of references to advertising or advertisements in the federal code, including in criminal provisions. Congress has even explicitly criminalized advertising on the Internet.
Just last year, in a bill cosponsored by 127 bipartisan members of Congress, Congress amended the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to “advertise for sale” certain fraudulent military medals. During consideration of that bill, which passed the House by a vote of 390 to 3 and was signed into law, no member raised a concern about the proprietary of criminalizing advertising. Surely saving young children from these horrors is no less deserving than fraudulent medals?
This legislation simply clarifies and modernizes federal criminal law to keep pace with the evolving trend of exploiting the Internet for criminal gains. The bill has support from more than 90 bipartisan cosponsors, and was reported out of the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 24 to 3.
I commend my colleague, Ms. Wagner, for bringing forth this important legislation. I urge my colleagues to support this bill and I reserve the balance of my time.