Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wagner Calls Sex-Ad Sites Slave Auctioneers, and Says Justice Department Lags in Prosecution

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wagner Calls Sex-Ad Sites Slave Auctioneers, and Says Justice Department Lags in Prosecution

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, on Tuesday equated the online advertising site Backpage with slave auctioneers, and she criticized the Justice Department for not doing more to fight what she called "an awful, dark, underbelly of the world."

"It is as easy to order up a little girl online as it is a pepperoni pizza," Wagner said in a fiery speech and question-and-answer session at the Family Research Council. "It is that easy."

She came touting her Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, a controversial attempt to amend the 21-year-old Communications Decency Act to make it harder for Backpage and other online sites to argue they are only third-party hosts of others' speech, and therefore protected under that law and the First Amendment.

Courts have generally held in favor of Backpage in attempts to make it criminally or civilly liable for illegal sex advertising placed on the site. Wagner's bill, introduced in April, now has 37 sponsors from both political parties. She said Tuesday that Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have told her they will push a companion measure in the Senate.

Backpage, Wagner said, is "the auctioneer for online sex trafficking. They are not a third-party platform."

Liz McDougall, a lawyer for Backpage, did not comment. But the site has aggressively defended itself as a host, not a creator, of content. McDougall has also argued that the actions of Wagner and others will only drive the sex trade further underground and beyond the reach of law enforcement.

Wagner's Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, called SAVE, was passed and signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in 2015. That law criminalized the knowing advertisement of illegal sex trafficking. Her new bill would go further, and faces a tougher path to passage. …

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