from the seems-odd dept
Last week the State Department released its United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Annual Report 2021, and it’s… a weird document in so many ways. Anti-human trafficking policy making is one of those issues that just seems to attract some very, very bizarre people — as you might have noticed from the world of Pizzagate and Q-Anon. Human trafficking is (1) a very real problem, (2) a very serious problem, (3) just generally horrific for all the reasons you know, but (4) happens way less than most people think (especially given how much people focus on it). Obviously, continued efforts to prevent all human trafficking are important, and so I can understand why the State Department set up this advisory council. However, they seemed to staff it with a bunch of folks who have a very clear incentive to play up the issue as much bigger and more threatening than it really is.
And perhaps that explains the report’s incredibly bizarre, incorrect, and just weird thoughts on the internet and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. First, they have a section that looks like it was directly written by The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), which while you might think that’s a group with relevant expertise, is not. The group was founded in 1962 as “Morality in Media” and has spent decades trying to stop anything they deem to be smut. They only changed their name to NCOSE because it played better in the media to tie their anti-porn, anti-obscenity obsession to exploitation. They were also a major force behind FOSTA, which they always viewed as a step towards making all porn illegal.
One of the group’s big lobbying campaigns is to convince states to pass laws declaring pornography to be a “public health issue.” It’s not, of course, but this group’s entire existence doesn’t make much sense if they can’t convince more prudes that nekkid people are destroying society. Which, fine, if outlawing porn gets you off, do what you have to do, but I don’t see why the State Department needs to support that kind of nonsense. Yet, right in this report we get:
We recommend HHS, DOJ, and DHS address the gaps and issues relating to the intersection between pornography, human trafficking, and child sexual exploitation.
As of November 2020, 16 U.S. states have passed resolutions recognizing pornography as a public health issue. It is time that the federal government also take deliberate action to acknowledge the direct links between pornography and human trafficking and address it as a threat to society….
They also recommend that HHS “allocate resources to fund research on the public health harms of pornography.” They also cite the number of reports to NCMEC of suspected child sexual exploitation as proof that there’s a real problem — leaving out that (1) reports are not actual evidence of actual exploitation, (2) that social media has gotten better about reporting to NCMEC, and (3) that nuttiness like Q-Anon has resulted in tons of obviously bogus reports. But, no, they insist that such reports are proof of “a pervasive problem.”
And then there’s this:
In addition, the 94 United States Attorneys? Offices are mandated to enforce federal obscenity laws. FBI agents, postal inspectors, and customs officers are responsible for investigating violations of federal obscenity laws. Pornography is the marketing department for sex trafficking. It has been shown to influence sex buying behaviors and much of it is produced by force, fraud, and coercion. A robust enforcement of federal obscenity laws will therefore reduce the demand driving sex trafficking and protect those that are being victimized in the production of pornography. Therefore, we call upon federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and DOJ to prosecute federal obscenity laws actively, aggressively, and to the fullest extent of the law…
The claim that porn is “the marketing department for sex trafficking” seemed weird. It would be extreme already in just an NCOSE press release. It seems wholly irresponsible to put it into a State Dept. document. Meanwhile, I was wondering what the footnote was as evidence for this statement… and it’s citing a Jezebel article from 2018 about two porn actors (understandably!) complaining about abuse, violence, and boundary violations on set. That’s absolutely awful, but says nothing at all about how widespread this is and what any of that has to do with trafficking.
Then, the report suggests that Congress needs to update Section 230. Now, some of you might recall that we already did this. Congress — at NCOSE’s urging — passed FOSTA specifically to try to carve out sex trafficking activity from Section 230 protections. And so far, what it has done is made it significantly more difficult to find and capture actual sex traffickers while also putting the lives of sex workers at risk — often leading them to take risks that made it easier for traffickers to take advantage of them.
All in all, the evidence has shown that FOSTA has done the exact opposite of what was promised and has actually make sex trafficking worse.
But this advisory ignores all that and says we just need to take an even bigger sledge hammer to Section 230:
Sex trafficking of children and adults has proliferated online in part because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) has been interpreted by federal and state courts to: 1) prohibit sex trafficking victims from suing websites that advertise them as being for sale; and 2) prevent states from enforcing criminal laws against websites that carry ads for sex trafficking. The technology industry has effectively used Section 230 to avoid responsibility for and profit from illegal activities that continue unabated on their platforms.* Despite the passage of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 tech-savvy internet traffickers have already leapt ahead using various ploys including utilizing foreign-based corporations and servers, which operate outside the reach of U.S. law, to advertise, exploit, and traffic American children on American soil.
Federal enforcement alone has proven insufficient in combating the growth of online commercial sexual exploitation of children. State, territorial, tribal, and local law enforcement must have the necessary digital forensics tools and clear authority to investigate and prosecute those who profit from these crimes. Additionally, removing civil immunity for companies that are complicit in child sexual exploitation on their platforms will create a necessary incentive for the technology industry to become proactive in protecting the most vulnerable in our society.
Therefore, we recommend Congress amend Section 230 of the CDA to empower victims and their attorneys, and states, territories, tribes, and localities to use all applicable criminal and civil laws to effectively combat human trafficking, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children online.
Except that as it stands right now, Section 230 already allows most of this. It has no impact on federal criminal law, and since the passing of FOSTA does allow for both civil and state criminal lawsuits. And so far, those have been a disaster. Ambulance chasing lawyers going after Mailchimp for cash, because some company that wanted to become the next Backpage signed up to use Mailchimp to send out emails.
All of the “sources” in the 3 paragraphs above… point to NCOSE’s site, which again, is not a trustworthy or honest party in all of this.
I’m used to seeing this kind of nonsense from NCOSE all the time, but why is the State Department allowing its name and credibility to be used to launder this nonsense as if it’s legit?