A Win to Help Crack Down on Human Trafficking Online
The sale of human beings for sex on the internet is one of the most heinous acts imaginable — and it occurs in communities around this country each and every day, including in North Dakota. I wrote and introduced a bill that Congress passed to help stop these crimes, and help keep our communities strong and safe.
When I first got to the U.S. Senate in 2013, it was clear that the scourge of human trafficking was not well understood — and that education and awareness were sorely lacking. Many folks didn’t realize that it was happening in their own towns and neighborhoods — in big cities, coastal states, and across rural America and Indian Country. It was happening to runaways, homeless youth, and other marginalized children who were preyed upon by traffickers. We needed to urgently increase awareness and put forward an effective strategy to crack down on those who willfully enabled prostitution and trafficking.
After years of bipartisan work, we just achieved an important milestone in the fight against sex trafficking — Congress passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), bipartisan legislation I helped write and introduce, to hold websites that enable sex trafficking online accountable for knowingly enabling and facilitating sex trafficking online.
Some of the most disgusting cases of trafficking we’ve seen involving children have been facilitated by the website Backpage.com. Websites like Backpage ply their disgusting trade openly and try to hide behind the First Amendment — protections that no reasonable person would believe extend to this type of abhorrent and criminal behavior. It’s been a long road to get our bill passed, and a key part of that effort was a two year investigation into Backpage.com by a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations — a subcommittee I serve on. We showed complicit behavior by Backpage in facilitating sex trafficking, and we held Backpage’s executives’ feet to the fire when we compelled them to appear before the Subcommittee.
I couldn’t be prouder that we got this bill across the finish line, which was a direct result of our investigation and the tireless work of victims and advocates — including my good friend Cindy McCain — who kept up the pressure on Congress to act. And just as of April 6, Backpage.com was shutdown. I’m so proud that our investigation helped lead to this point so that no child or woman will be sold for sex through this website.
Passage of our bill shows that it’s still possible to bridge partisan divides if we put our heads down and work hard to find solutions, and I’ve made working to combat human trafficking a top priority so that all children, families, and communities are strong and safe. Here are some keys steps I took since joining the U.S. Senate that paved the way for passing our bipartisan bill:
- September 2013: In my first year in office, I led a Senate hearing to raise awareness and bring together federal, state, and local stakeholders to discuss solutions.
- I joined North Dakota community leaders to discuss ways to identify, report, and prosecute human trafficking in North Dakota.
- September 2014: I launched my Strong & Safe Communities Initiative to help address many of the emerging challenges in our state — including the increase of human trafficking — and face them head on.
- April 2015: I pushed to pass a bill I strongly supported with U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to protect runaway and homeless youth from getting caught up in human trafficking.
- April 2015: I helped pass bipartisan legislation to increase prosecution of traffickers who transport victims across state lines, and to institute national ‘safe harbor’ laws to allow victims of trafficking to come forward without fear of being treated as a criminals themselves.
- June 2015: I brought my friend and anti-trafficking advocate Cindy McCain to North Dakota to talk with local community leaders, advocates & law enforcement about collective efforts to combat these crimes on the ground.
- November 2015: The CEO of Backpage refused to show up for a hearing in a U.S. Senate subcommittee I sit on, demonstrating lack of interest from the CEO in participating in solving the problem of sex trafficking being facilitated by his company.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., was at the hearing Thursday and says she will hold backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer…www.kfyrtv.com
- January 2016: I helped release a report on Backpage finding its employees deliberately crafted loopholes that enabled the trafficking of men, women & children online. The report was a result of the two year Senate subcommittee investigation into Backpage.
- February 2016: A Senate committee — which I sit on — voted unanimously to launch civil contempt proceedings against Backpage & its CEO, who would later be arrested for his role in promoting and trafficking women.
WASHINGTON — A Senate committee that includes Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has voted to launch civil contempt proceedings…www.grandforksherald.com
- March 2016: I joined the U.S. Senate in a unanimous vote to launch civil contempt proceedings against website Backpage. It was the the first time in 20 years the U.S. Senate has held anyone in contempt of Congress
- January 2017: I reintroduced a biparitsan bill with U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) to help make sure health care providers — including doctors, nurses, and social workers — have the training they need to help identify and protect victims of human trafficking.
- February 2017: I appeared in I Am Jane Doe, a documentary which takes an in-depth look at websites like Backpage & the horrifying crimes the company knowingly facilitates.
- February 2017: Launched my podcast, The Hotdish, with an episode on need to combat human trafficking. I interviewed anti-human trafficking leader, Cindy McCain, and North Dakota journalist, Kevin Wallevand, who did an amazing documentary on trafficking in North Dakota.
- August 2017: Our bill, SESTA, to crack down on websites like Backpage is introduced in the Senate after I worked with a bipartisan coalition to write and negotiate the bill, including U.S. Senators Rob Portman, John McCain, Richard Blumenthal, Claire McCaskill, and John Cornyn. The bill quickly gained bipartisan cosponsors and passed out of Senate Commerce Committee.
- September 2017: A bipartisan bill I helped introduce, the Abolishing Human Trafficking Act, passed in Senate to further strengthen tools for law enforcement & prosecutors to fight human trafficking, increase awareness & get victims the resources to escape, seek legal protection & rebuild their lives.
- January 2018: The truly bipartisan nature of SESTA emerged when it gained enough sponsors to easily pass in the U.S. Senate.
- February 2018: I released an episode of my podcast, The Hotdish, to shed light on the crisis and the urgent need to pass SESTA.
- February 2018: The U.S. House passes SESTA, taking another important step in refusing to allow websites like Backpage to hide shamefully behind the First Amendment to shield those who sell children for sex online.
- March 2018: I spoke on the Senate floor about the need to pass SESTA and hold websites like Backpage.com accountable.
- March 2018: Finally, SESTA passes the U.S. Senate on March 21 in a 97–2 vote, demonstrating the strong bipartisan support we gained for this bill. R
(WDAY)-New developments have emerged Wednesday night in connection with a story we have been following since the airing…www.wday.com
- April 2018: Federal authorities shut Backpage down, in a huge step toward making sure no child will be sold for sex through this website — not in North Dakota, the United States, or around the world.
- April 2018: The president signed SESTA into law in a major win for trafficking victims and their families across North Dakota and our country.
The victims and advocates who pressed Congress to act and kept up the pressure were so critical to the passage of this bill, and now that SESTA has been signed in to law, law enforcement will finally have a tool they’ve been missing to bring justice to those who commit some of the most horrible crimes imaginable against women and children.