Proposed Update to Federal Law Could Help Catch Online Child Sex Traffickers

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The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Association of Attorney Generals urged Congress in July to make changes to a federal law that would allow local authorities greater power to prosecute online child sex traffickers.

The measure would update a section of the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 to give local authorities authority to act in some cases where only federal officials currently have jurisdiction.

Carolyn Atwell-Davis, vice president of policy and governmental affairs at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that changing the law’s wording may allow states to bring charges against websites or individuals who facilitate crimes against children.

“I would hope that it would cause pimps who advertise children online for sex, this would act as a deterrent to that,” Atwell said.

The proposal has the support of 47 state attorneys general, who say changing the law would make it easier to go after classified advertising sites suspected of aiding in trafficking children.

International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children President and CEO Ernie Allen said that the current wording of the CDA provides a loophole for many traffickers to advertise children on the Web.

“The CDA, which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the Internet, is now being used to escape prosecution by those who are victimizing children through prostitution and other crimes,” Allen said in a recent press release. “A minor amendment needs to be made to update the CDA to prevent that from happening.”

Illustration via the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children