House Judiciary Committee Falsely Claims Credit For Stopping 90% Of All Sex Trafficking Because Of FOSTA

from the where-did-they-pull-that-stat-from dept

For no clear reason at all, the Republicans* on the House Judiciary Committee released a video on YouTube earlier this week praising themselves for stopping online sex trafficking via FOSTA/SESTA. It’s… quite something.

The video makes a number of blatantly false claims from various members of the House Judiciary, but let’s focus mainly on the claims of Ann Wagner, whose original bill kicked off the process that became FOSTA/SESTA. She’s been spreading moral panic nonsense about sex trafficking and the internet for ages, so it’s no surprise that she continues to do so. But, at one point in the video she states:

“We have shut down nearly 90% of the online sex trafficking business and ads.”

She kind of swallows that last “and ads” bit so you could miss it, but either way it’s utter and complete nonsense. I looked all over for any evidence of the claim that 90% of online sex trafficking has been stopped and there doesn’t appear to be an iota of support for that. The only stat I could find that is possibly being twisted to make this argument is that when Backpage was seized earlier this year — notably before FOSTA/SESTA was signed into law — a Reuters report claimed that 90% of Backpage’s ads were for “adult ads.”

But, that in no way translates to Wagner’s nutty claim for a whole long list of reasons:

  1. Backpage was not the entire online market for sex trafficking ads (amusingly, Wagner admits this earlier in the same video, in which she falsely claims that there were “hundreds and hundreds of websites selling our children with impunity” < -- narrator: "there were not, in fact, hundreds and hundreds of websites doing so, and they were not doing it with impunity."
  2. Many of the adult ads on Backpage were not for sex trafficking at all
  3. Backpage stopped hosting adult ads a year and a half ago in January of 2017, over a year before SESTA/FOSTA became law and over a year before the site was seized by the feds.
  4. And, again, Backpage was seized before SESTA/FOSTA was even signed into law.

So, where, exactly is Wagner getting this stat of having shut down 90% of online sex trafficking and ads because of FOSTA/SESTA?

There’s other nonsense in the video as well. Wagner’s other whopper was:

“If it’s a crime offline, by golly, it’s a crime online!”

Uh, yes. But that’s always been the case. FOSTA/SESTA didn’t change that. All it did was create a series of new crimes for third party tools and services used by not just sex traffickers, but sex workers. Sex trafficking was already illegal and this bill did absolutely nothing to change that. It is simply wrong to imply that FOSTA/SESTA suddenly made something illegal online that had been legal online before but illegal offline. It’s not true.

Then there’s Mimi Walters’ who brought the amendment that combined FOSTA and SESTA, making both bills worse. Her credibility on this whole thing is already suspect, given that after the feds took down Backpage, she took credit for it falsely saying it was because of FOSTA/SESTA even though that bill was not law yet. But, here she is in the video spewing more nonsense:

“This legislation will now make it illegal to sell people online and give those survivors the opportunity to seek justice.”

Except it was always illegal to sell people online (and offline!) and nothing in FOSTA/SESTA changed that. All it did was create a new crime in which tools and services used by traffickers could also be found to be criminal in addition to the people who were doing the actual selling of people (while also making it harder for law enforcement to find those people — but we’ll get there). She continues:

“Websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking are no longer immune from legal action.”

Except they were never immune from legal action. Facilitating sex trafficking is a federal crime and nothing in CDA 230 contained immunity for federal crimes. It really makes you wonder why the primary “authors” of the bill seem to feel so hard pressed to flat out lie about what their own bill does. Why would they do that?

The video also has Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte with more of his nonsense as well.

“The provisions of this law are already making the internet safer.”

[Citation needed] Amusingly, right after Goodlatte says that, the video in an effort to support this claim flips to a news report about the shutdown of Backpage… which (and I know I’m repeating myself here) was taken down without the helps of FOSTA/SESTA since it wasn’t even signed into law.

Also, the evidence to date leans heavily against the claim that it has made the internet safer. Indeed, already we’ve seen reports about sex workers being killed and pimps being empowered now that sex workers can’t use sites like Backpage to screen clients. And a big study has highlighted how a lack of such services likely leads to a massive uptick in murder of women (not just sex workers, but women in general). And, lest we forget, police departments themselves are now complaining that they can no longer find sex traffickers thanks to the law.

Notice that the video addresses none of those effects (all of which were widely predicted). It just insists that the internet is safer. This is legislative fantasyland.

Of course, there’s another oddity here. Why the hell is the House Judiciary Committee Republicans suddenly putting out such a video? The bill has already passed and it’s already doing lots of damage. So why is Congress spending taxpayer money on a professionally edited video talking up a bunch of nonsense? Perhaps, as many have suggested, a key part of FOSTA/SESTA was always about grandstanding about how these politicians are “tough on sex trafficking” even if that’s not accurate at all. And now that we’re heading towards election season, I guess they have to milk that grandstanding bullshit for all its worth. Go spend your constituents hard-earned tax money by lying to them! What a job!

Of course, another reason for all of this may be the recent lawsuit claiming that FOSTA/SESTA is unconstitutional. While we’ve written about it already, the stories of some of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit tell the real story of how FOSTA/SESTA is harming people. Among those suing are a national alliance of Asian massage stores, who note that, thanks to FOSTA/SESTA their completely legitimate businesses are now being blocked from advertising, because some falsely assume that any Asian massage stores must be engaged in the sex trade.

…many Internet sites and review platforms flatly refuse content from or about Asian massage providers, DiBenedetto indicated. ?Since it?s assumed we?re in the sex trade because we have Asian women offering Asian massage, platforms that used to run our ads and carry our reviews all the time now want nothing to do with us.?

The loss of those online outlets is devastating to providers of Asian massage services, said DiBenedetto. ?They are unfairly cutting our stores off from the consumers we need to attract in order to stay viable. The business model of the typical Asian massage store requires a continual inflow of new customers. That inflow is heavily disrupted by us being profiled.?

DiBenedetto said Asian massage studio owners and masseuses now, ?go to work every morning wondering if today will be the day their livelihoods vanish because all the doors have been slammed in their faces. This is so demoralizing, not to mention dehumanizing.?

So, to summarize, the House Judiciary Committee appears to be spending taxpayer money on a video celebrating a law that doesn’t do what they claim it does, taking credit for a site takedown that wasn’t because of the law, making up stats that have no basis in reality, ignoring the fact that their law has put many lives in real danger while making it more difficult for law enforcement to do their job, not to mention harming small business owners at the same time.

And people wonder why Congress’ approval rating is so low.

* Our standard practice is not to name the party of politicians unless that’s central to the story. In this case, the video is literally coming from a YouTube account that is apparently run by the Republicans on the House Judiciary. And this is not a “Republican v. Democrat” thing, because the Democrats on the Committee also supported FOSTA/SESTA. It was bipartisan nonsense, so if you happen to support the blue team or the red team, stupid generalizing comments about one party or the other will just make you look silly and tribal, rather than insightful or intelligent.

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Comments on “House Judiciary Committee Falsely Claims Credit For Stopping 90% Of All Sex Trafficking Because Of FOSTA”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Okay, SO now state YOUR counter-statistics WITH source.

You’re just implying that have some actual data to counter.

So even IF x were outright lying, you are at best ANOTHER fraud, Masnick. Not a bit of substance here, just your opinion for a rant. — You’re never going to give up advocating sex-trafficking, are you?

Anonymous Coward says:

90% of ads

Start with the false equivalence that all “adult” ads are “sex trafficking” ads. As I understand it, FOSTA/SESTA is so vaguely drafted that some upstanding defense lawyers are warning the government might make that argument in court and succeed.

Add in that sites legitimately fear prosecution based on the vague standards in FOSTA/SESTA, so they are motivated to censor any ads that the government might argue are “sex trafficking” ads, rather than targeting only ads that contribute to what historically would be agreed is actual sex trafficking. Since the censorship is distributed to the sites and the sites are highly motivated to err on the side of censorship, stopping 90% of “adult” ads seems fairly plausible. Arguably, it’s on the low side, since the really paranoid sites would just ban all adult ads and be done with it.

If none of that works, we can also fall back to lying with statistics. If there were 10 ads total in the survey, and 9 of them were removed, we’ve stopped “90%” of the ads. That it disrupted the business only 9 criminals (and that only if all 9 of the zapped ads were actual sex trafficking, not just “adult” ads; and note, disrupted the business, but did not lead to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators) is irrelevant to the statistic.

carlb (profile) says:

Re: 90% of ads

It’s not just that FOSTA/SESTA is a scam intended to shut down all discussion on consensual sex-for-money transactions by deliberately confusing or conflating this with “trafficking” and slavery… although it is that.

It’s worse than that. We’re seeing things like non-commercial personal advertisements vanish from “” just because some buffoon made the mistake of hosting content (which servers a non-US audience) stateside. That mistake might have been forgiveable back when the US still respected the 1st amendment, but in the “bill of rights (n.): Void where prohibited” era?

It’s time to start moving content off US-based servers and onto data centres in third countries. Taking down content related to consensual activity on the pretext of taking on “traffickers” isn’t collateral damage, it was the game plan from day one. If Snowden wasn’t the wake-up call to stop hosting non-US content on US-based servers, this should be.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 90 percent

Also, unless I’m very much mistaken, they’re prohibited from taking federal money for those services and depend on donations to provide them.

Meaning that the people who constantly push for them to be defunded are actually getting things like education, birth control, health checks and cancer screenings defunded, while not affecting abortion funding. Many of the women involved cannot get that healthcare access elsewhere due to availability or cost, so once these clinics get shut down they’re stuck.

Yet another reason I’m glad to live in civilised countries with decent healthcare access.

Anonymous Coward says:

The provisions of this law are already making the internet safer.

Which is true. The internet is definitely safer with this law, given that by "safer" we mean "less sex traficking is present." It just ignores the fact that the whole problem with sex trafficking is what is happening outside of the internet.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The internet is definitely safer with this law, given that by "safer" we mean "less sex traficking is present."

I doubt even that’s true, more likely it’s just less visible and in places that law enforcement can’t easily find or do anything about.

Sites like Craigslist were willing to work with law enforcement to catch the actual criminals, what site is going to do the same now when admitting knowledge stands to leave them in trouble?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Exactly, and this is why these things are always so mystifying*. If the public has open access to announcements of illegal activity, so does law enforcement. The best possible situation for them is for the largest ad network for illegal activity to be one that anyone can access and is stored with a friendly source. The worst situation is for it to be a fragmented set of underground venues that they have to fight hard to get evidence from. These laws not only favour the latter, they demand it.

* well, not really mystifying – way too many politicians need to be seen “doing something”, even if that “something” has the opposite effect to what they claim it does. It’s all about moralising and re-election, the actual victims are irrelevant.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Red v. Blue

When talking about our two official parties in our two-party system, you’re talking about two companies that lean to the green (that is the green ink of money, not environmentalism).

Professor Larry Lessig explains it concisely, how they’re both essentially the same party that serves plutocratic interests rather than public interests. Money controls the nomination process, and thus what issues are on or off the table. Lessig observes that 100 families in the US control half the campaign contributions in the US. They are our aristocracy.

Right now, we’re even seeing the DNC give quiet support to old-guard Democrats over the new no-corporate-money far-left candidates.

For instance, Crowley has been receiving quiet support from the DNC and encouraged not to withdrawal from the race (and is currently on the ballot as a Working Families Party candidate) in hopes he can undermine Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s position as the Democratic candidate. Ocasio-Cortez is too left for the Democrats and not interested in toeing the traditional line of corporate sponsorship.

My fear is that this infighting is going to temper the predicted blue wave, given the GOP isn’t trying to hide or justify its true intentions anymore, to fleece the public fund and flee before the nation goes bankrupt.

ECA (profile) says:

“Sex trafficing moved from the streets to the internet.”????????????

And where is it now?? back on the streets.

“”We have shut down nearly 90% of the online sex trafficking business and ads.” “

Umm, and HOW do you justify this comment? Because you aint checked the streets yet..

“Poorest to the richest.”???
Umm, no..BECAUSE some of the biggest are Private/hidden, and in Washington DC..and New york, next door to the UN..

“”This legislation will now make it illegal to sell people online and give those survivors the opportunity to seek justice.” “
SELLING PERSONS HAS ALWAYS BEEN ILLEGAL and this only Proves that it has been Under the table ALONG time and its still there. Its for those with MONEY, and Property, and PRIVACY.. To hide and hold a Physical person for more then a day, requires ALLOT..esp money. This is not a poor mans Sport..

MARTHA get out the Scuba suit, its getting REAL deep in here..

Would anyone LOVE to have a online Chat with this person??
REALLY, lets invite her to a chat..PLEASE!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

An enterprising individual needs to take the entirety of this particular video, and then make some key edits that exhibit each claim as what it is. “90% of …” overlaid with “Source Not Found”

“crime off, crime online” cut with “No shit, it was beforehand too”

“legislation makes it illegal to sell people online” cut with “politician claims slavery was legal prior to [date of bill’s effect]”

And so on.

Then get it mirrored across as many sites as possible and play it on the Jumbotron for good measure.

I, unfortunately, have no video editing skills or software. This makes me sad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I, unfortunately, have no video editing skills or software.

Set up a Linux box and you will solve the software issue. There after it is practice and experimentation. An old windows box, or a second hand box will let you get started. As for which Distro, start with Ubuntu or Mint, but after gaining a bit of Linux experience, consider switching to Debian testing, or Manjaro for the breadth of software available on these distribution, and their rolling release nature.

Bring up the package manager and search for video editor to see whats available.

Anonymous Coward says:

Except it was always illegal to sell people online (and offline!) and nothing in FOSTA/SESTA changed that.

No, no always… the 13th amendment effectively legalizes slavery as punishment for a crime, though prison administrators haven’t gone beyond involuntary servitude AFAIK. If you’re looking for a speculative fiction plot, set a decade or two in the future, there you go.

Chick says:

Just wanted to say...

Thanks for encouraging decent conversation instead of tribalistic chest-beating, Mike.

This is partly why so many bad laws get pushed through in governments, we securely attach the laws to the “good guys”/”bad guys”, instead of considering the merit, pros and cons, of the ideas themselves outside of any affiliation from a party.

Even worse, in the name of “winning”, one “side” pushes down the “other side”‘s ideas and uplifts their own party’s ideas, which just fans the flames of tribalism further.

It really makes it hard for an average Jo to believe in much of anything the government does because it all becomes subjectively “good”/”bad” based on party affiliation, not merit.

Desiree Alliance (profile) says:


As a national sex worker rights organization, we have cancelled our July 2019 conference. It is the largest sex worker conference in the US. Since we were looking at immigration, migration, and sex work this conference. we felt we could not put our attendees and our organization at risk for criminalization. It’s fucking straight up bullshit!

Sex workers have done the math and DOJs own trafficking statistics don’t match up with the hysteria that’s gearing up for a new domestic war. For the most comprehensive trafficking #s I have seen to date, go to ISWFACE “Operation Do the Math”

Cris Sardina
Director, Desiree Alliance

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