Texas Anti-Trafficking Legislation Faces Battle

The Texas Senate has filed a bill that would allow victims of human trafficking to sue both traffickers and advertisers, including websites like Backpage.com, for civil damages. Traffickers sometimes advertise those services online through third-party websites. Senate Bill 94 is part of a trio of human trafficking bills that were submitted on the first day of filing. The others, SB 92 and SB 93, would continue funding for the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force under the Texas attorney general’s office for another two years and create a diversion and treatment program for juveniles involved in prostitution.

But SB 94 faces the biggest potential uphill battle. It would allow victims of trafficking to file civil action against and seek compensation from both the trafficking business and the publisher “of an advertisement that led to their victimization.” The measure would make liable any website that fails to stop advertisements posted by trafficking businesses. Lawmakers and advocates expect the bill to face opposition during the upcoming legislative session from the websites and others who see it as a violation of the First Amendment.

The bill’s co-sponsor, State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said. “But do you really want to be known as a site that charges money for slavery?”

In response to similar laws in Tennessee and Washington, Backpage.com has argued that criminal penalties “would impose an intolerable burden on speech across the country.”

Van de Putte said she discovered how much websites profit from advertisements that lead to underage prostitution. “They are blatantly promoting prostitution,” she said, “particularly with some of these code words that are promising sexual interactions with young, young women.”

Learn more at Maurice Chammah’s The Monitor article: Lawmakers expect fight against anti-trafficking bill.

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