A bill that would allow law enforcement and prosecutors to crackdown on websites that promote sex trafficking overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Wednesday.
The legislation, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), now heads to the president for his signature. Prior to today’s vote, Nelson took to the Senate floor and asked for his colleagues’ support.
“An untold number of women and children in the U.S. are being sold into sexual slavery via the internet,” Nelson said. “It’s just unacceptable and it’s wrong. … We can’t sit by idly any longer.”
The legislation creates new accountability for websites hosting ads posted by sex traffickers, allows state attorneys general to prosecute websites that knowingly facilitate trafficking and enhances criminal penalties for traffickers.
According to the human trafficking hotline, Florida ranked third in the country for the highest number of sex trafficking cases reported in 2016 and 2017.
Following is a rush transcript of Nelson’s remarks before the vote:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
March 21, 2018
Sen. Nelson: I thank the senator from Ohio for his gracious comments. And I just simply want to say my part as to why this is so important that we pass this legislation, because it’s very obvious that an untold number of women and children in the U.S. are being sold into sexual slavery via the internet.
And we now have an opportunity to do something about it by passing this legislation. And it’s so bad because with just a few clicks or a few punches on an iPhone, victims from all walks of life and parts of the country, all across, are being forced into brutal slavery and unspeakable crimes.
I want to repeat that. I want Americans to understand what is going on behind the scenes, that women and children are being forced into sex slavery in modern-day America, and could very well happen to someone that you know.
You know, we have continuing stories of our history of how slavery brought to the new world had happened. First to Arabia off the east coast of Africa, and then of course the European nations later in going down with ship captains, the Portuguese actually ended up having the most of slaves transported to the new world, primarily to South America.
But of course the English got into the act. Most of the European nations got into the act of these unspeakable crimes of slave ships going down to the west coast of Africa either enslaving themselves, Africans, or getting into agreement with a particular tribe that would then go out and capture members of an opposing tribe.
And of course, you’ve heard over and over the stories, untold stories of the inhumanity of stacking people body to body in the hulls of these slave ships. And it finally took a civil war to settle the issue. That was slavery. That was slavery that we opposed and now all of our laws try to protect against.
But here in modern-day America the same thing is happening, and it’s happening because of the advent, the advances of technology now using the internet. And if this is not a wake-up call, I simply don’t know what is.
According to human trafficking to the hotline, just my state of Florida has consistently ranked in the top five states in human trafficking cases. Florida was third in the country for the number of cases reported in 2016 and 2017, and that’s just what we know about.
And so, it’s just unacceptable and it’s wrong. Tens of thousands of Americans, predominantly women children, are subjected to this horrific reality. And you can imagine the pain and the suffering which they are subjected to. And nowhere in the country should have to endure this kind of forced slavery. No child or woman in Florida, in America should ever be trafficked for sex.
And to even contemplate that should offend any person’s sense of decency and humanity. And so the question before the Senate today, thanks with the leadership of a number of our colleagues, the question before the Senate today is, why aren’t we going to do everything that we can to stop this heinous practice?
And so, the bill that we are considering on the Senate floor would help us shut down despicable websites that enable this sex trafficking. Don’t kid yourself. These shady and highly profitable website operators know full well how their sites are being used. And what’s more, they’re hiding behind a decades’ old legal shield to immunize themselves from prosecution. And we’ve got to change that legal shield that was set up a decade ago for a different purpose.
And so, the bill by Senators Portman, Blumenthal, McCain, Heitkamp, and myself — and now many others — would eliminate the safe harbor in law for sex traffickers, and it would allow state attorneys general, other state and local prosecutors, and the victims themselves to go after the websites that knowingly provide a platform for sex trafficking. It would also make key changes to federal criminal law to enable law enforcement to better target the websites.
So, it’s simple. That’s the purpose of the legislation. Let’s get it passed out of here, get it signed into law, and let all of these various law enforcement entities be able to do their job. This legislation is an extensive product by our congressional colleagues on a bipartisan basis. It proves once again that what we ought to be doing around here on almost everything and yet we rarely do — it proves once again, if you cross partisan lines and put things together in a bipartisan way, that then you can tackle the important lifesaving issues such as this one. And we can get something done.
Let’s show today that we can get something done. Something that really makes a difference to Americans. And so, it’s a privilege for me to be involved in a bipartisan way with this legislation and to have worked with our commerce committee to get a unanimous vote out of the committee.
I hope that this legislation is going to serve as a wake-up call to the morally bankrupt website operators. We’re coming after you. And it seems like every day we hear of new ways that these bad actors are exploiting internet content and data to undermine society. Obviously, the internet has been magnificent for so many of us. But now when technology advances, you have to be on your guard about how new technology is used for the bad operators.
This bill is going to address that. We can’t sit by idly any longer. We’ve got to act today.
Madam President, I yield the floor.