Sex trafficking internet crackdown proposal

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Silicon Valley is a target in the fight against sex-trafficking. But, at least one notable expert fears the effort to create a new crime could backfire with disastrous consequences.

Those willing to flaunt the law and pay for sex can often find what they want with just a few clicks. Many of the women advertised online are victims, kidnapped, and held captive. Many are under age and forcibly drugged.

"The stories are just tragic," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

If caught, sex-traffickers can be charged, but not websites through which they advertise. Portman proposes a bill to create a new felony charge for those who intentionally turn a blind-eye to shady online posting.

Thirty fellow senators signed on. Portman said he hopes a vote will come soon, "because every day that goes by, there are more people being trafficked online who see their lives getting derailed."

Kim Mehlman-Orozco argues the bill could create more havoc in the lives of victims. "I think that this policy, like many anti-trafficking pieces of legislation in the past, is symbolic in nature," she said.

Mehlman-Orozco frequently testifies as an expert witness for the prosecution in sex trafficking cases. She bases her conclusions on surveys she conducted with those in the shadowy industry, survivors, convicted traffickers, consulting sex workers, and the clients.

She said history and her research suggest Portman's bill will not cut into trafficking, but merely push ads into the dark web or to sites based overseas, beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. That she said, "mak[es] them harder to identify, harder to prosecute, and harder to rescue victims."

Portman counters that law enforcement groups - like the Fraternal Order of Police and 50 attorneys general - support his bill. A few web sites are on-board - but not internet giants Facebook and Google.

Google directed us to the Internet Association. Spokespeople there said they're concerned the legislation is overly-broad, and would like to rework with lawmakers to narrow the proposal's scope.

Portman said he hopes the companies come on-board. "Look, they said they have concerns about internet freedom," he said, "there's nothing in this legislation that would affect my freedom as an internet user, unless I'm assisting people in trafficking."

Portman spear-headed five pieces of legislation last session aimed at cutting off sex-trafficking. This is his first directed at the web.

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