Washington State Senator Not Giving Up

Jeanne Kohl-Welles has become the Washington Legislature’s point-woman on human trafficking issues.

“Human trafficking” was not even a common term in the mid-1990s, when Kohl-Welles joined the state senate. “You delve into it and find out it’s bigger than you imagined,” she said. According to a 2012 legislative report, 300 to 500 children were exploited for sex in the Seattle area in 2008 and at least 22 children were advertised for sex online between 2010 and 2012.

In 2012, Kohl-Welles introduced two human trafficking bills that were successfully signed into law. The first, outlaws recruiting, transporting and using people for forced labor, involuntary servitude and commercial sex. The second bill, which outlaws advertising minors for sex,  was aimed at Backpage.com, whose national online advertising includes sex ads; some of which some have been linked to underage prostitutes. Last month, a federal judge in Seattle struck down that law, agreeing with the arguments of the plaintiff, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF argued that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the Federal Communications Decency Act of 1996, targeting an online service provider — Backpage.com — rather than the people using the service. The Communications Decency Act provides immunity to online service providers, a plank that has survived similar challenges in New York and Pennsylvania.

This year, Kohl-Welles plans to introduce a bill to repeal the unconstitutional 2012 law, and to replace it with a similar law that overcomes the legalese hurdle posed by the Communications Decency Act. She’d also like to see the state House and Senate send a joint letter to President Obama and Congress, urging them to update the 1996 Communications Decency Act to reflect the Internet world of 2013.

“We’re not going to stop everybody,” said Kohl-Welles, “but you do what you can do with statutes and penalties.”

Learn more at John Stang’s Crosscut article: Sen. Kohl-Welles not about to give up on human-trafficking battle.

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