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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Filed Under: ann wagner, bob goodlatte, fosta, grandstanding, mimi walters, sesta, sex trafficking


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  1. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 27 Jul 2018 @ 7:11am

    Re: Re: Re: 90 percent

    They consider it worth it if it stops a safe abortion, the idea being to scare women straight when the inevitable chop shop horror stories come out. Horrible, horrible people.

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