Providing for Consideration of H.R. Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017

Floor Speech

Date: Feb. 27, 2018
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. SLAUGHTER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me the customary 30 minutes, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, too often, our laws passed with the best of intentions fail to keep pace with technology, and that is what we are seeing today with the Communications Decency Act.

The bill was passed in 1996 as Congress' first attempt to regulate inappropriate material online. This law prevented hosts and visitors of a website from being treated as a publisher for legal purposes. It is what allowed classified websites like eBay to flourish while being legally protected from third-party content posted on their sites.

But 20 years is an eternity in the digital age, and bad actor websites have created platforms designed to facilitate illegalities like child prostitution and sex trafficking, and they use provisions in this law to shield them from any liability.

One of the most notorious examples is online advertiser Since 2011, more than 20 civil action lawsuits have been brought against this site for willingly facilitating sex trafficking and the prostitution of minors. However, each time a legal action was brought against Backpage, Federal law shielded them from liability.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that a contractor for this site was soliciting and creating sex-related ads, despite Backpage's repeated insistence that they had no role in the content of their ads. Backpage used longstanding Federal protections under the Communications Decency Act to shield itself from all liability.

In the Doe v. Backpage ruling by the first circuit, the judges held that, even if Backpage had facilitated the crime of sex trafficking, this law shielded the company from the claims that were filed by the child victims. The first circuit recently reiterated that when it threw out yet another lawsuit against Backpage. The courts weren't able to help these victims, instead, encouraging them to pursue legislative changes, and that brings us here today.

H.R. 1865 finally creates a legislative solution to hold these bad actors accountable and allow the victims to seek the damages that they deserve. It creates a new offense in the Federal code for websites that facilitate this criminal activity and gives, to prosecutors, the tools they need to hold the wrongdoers accountable.

The bill is a product of a lot of great work, and I want to thank Congresswoman Wagner for introducing it. The Rules Committee, last night, made in order an amendment from Congresswoman Walters that substantially strengthens the legislation and has Congresswoman Wagner's full support. Its inclusion attached the text of bipartisan Senate language to drastically improve its implementation. This is language that has the support of both the tech industry and the victims advocacy groups.

Mr. Speaker, it is so nice to see Members of both parties from both sides of the Capitol come together on this. Through collaboration, we have crafted a bill that does more than just update a 20-year-old law. It fulfills our moral responsibility to protect the children that we represent.

Mr. Speaker, President Trump tweeted over the weekend: ``Dems are no longer talking DACA.''

Mr. Speaker, I beg to differ. Democrats are still urging our colleagues yet again to act by helping us bring up the Dream Act for a vote on the House floor.

If we defeat the previous question, I will offer an amendment to the rule to bring up H.R. 3440, the Dream Act. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would help hundreds of thousands of young people who are American in every way except on paper. President Trump set the official deadline for DACA to expire on March 5, so we can't afford to waste any more time, and Dreamers should not be forced to live in fear any longer.


Ms. SLAUGHTER. Mr. Speaker, may I inquire of my colleague if he has further speakers?

Mr. Speaker, in closing, many of my colleagues today, as well as I, discussed the need to protect America's children. This bill is a great piece of that, and I am very grateful to have it on the floor today. But there is more that we can do. It must include acting to curb the Nation's gun violence epidemic.

Every day in America, 91 people are killed by a gun. Since Sandy Hook, there have been close to 1,000 mass shootings. A mass shooting is one where three or more people have lost their lives. Imagine that, thousands of them. Our Nation is still mourning the loss of 17 lives just last week when a gunman using an AR-15-style rifle opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That gun is a weapon of war and should only be in the hands of the military and never on the streets of the United States.

Assault weapons were the weapon of choice not just in the Florida shooting but also in the mass shootings at the concert in Las Vegas; the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; and the elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

They were prohibited under the assault weapons ban that Congress let expire in 2004. I was here when we established that ban, and we saw a great decrease in gun deaths from that. So they should be prohibited today and not in the hands of people who simply want to kill the most people they can in the shortest time.

Why would we allow an insanity like that?

So I was pleased to cosponsor legislation this week to re-implement the assault weapons ban.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are inspiring the entire Nation to push Congress to do our job and to act on gun violence.

I will tell you that I understand the pain that everybody feels from all of this, but we can't maintain it. We go from one to the other, as though nothing had ever happened before.

But we have to also do what the NRA has forbidden us from doing, which is to have gun research at the Communicable Disease Center. That certainly should be lifted, as well.

We certainly should expand and strengthen the background check system. Keeping people on the terrorist watch list and the no-fly list from being able to purchase firearms and explosives seems to me to be a no-brainer, but we won't even do that. And, yes, reinstating that weapons ban again, I think, is critically important.

Perhaps the voices of those injured and grieving children can break the gun lobby's stranglehold on Congress. I hope so. The majority should heed their call because we, as Members of Congress, are in a unique position. Unlike the clergy or grief counselors or elected officials, we can actually do something to combat this violence. It certainly is, Mr. Speaker, past time that we do.


Ms. SLAUGHTER. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.

The yeas and nays were ordered.