Sex Trafficking Victims Can Now Sue Social Media Companies

In the first part of 2017, more than 4,460 cases of sex trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. That’s just the number willing to come forward. Experts estimate that thousands of other victims are silenced, either out of fear of their perpetrator(s) or because of guilt. While many of us may feel far removed from the sex trafficking industry, states that are home to major cities such as Chicago are considered hubs for these activities, due in large part to a person’s ability to be anonymous, as well as our proximity to O’Hare International Airport, the 6th busiest in the world and the 3rd busiest in the country. Last year, Illinois ranked 10th on a list of states with the most reported human trafficking cases and had 100 reports within just the first half of the year.

Federal Law Now Makes Social Media Sites Pay Victim
Social media has given both traffickers and those seeking illegal sex an easy way of finding and targeting victims. With new legislation passed that allows victims to sue businesses that had any part in a case of a sex trafficking, the country is hopeful that the number of those brought into the human trafficking trade will dwindle.

The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) passed the Senate on March 21. The new law changes the 1996 Communications Decency Act that specifically gave protection to social media companies whose platforms linked victims with perpetrators. Under the Decency Act, companies were able to argue that they had no way of knowing that these activities were taking place and that they were not responsible for anything their users posted or engaged in. Now, these companies are able to be punished not only criminally, but civilly, giving victims the ability to sue for damages, repayment of attorney’s fees, and if local courts allow, punitive damages (monetary awards simply meant to punish the defendant). These monetary damages are likely to be sizable, given that many sex trafficking victims are underage and are therefore subjected to a lifetime of mental and physical suffering and anguish.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg publicly voiced her company’s support of FOSTA, while lobbyists representing the social media industry as a whole tried to work behind the scenes to persuade congressmen and women to vote against the act. Now, law firms are scrambling to advise their social media clients that they should have strict policies forbidding sex trafficking activities by its users, as well as cyber programs and staff that are consistently monitoring for any suspicious online activity taking place on their sites.

Sex Trafficking in the U.S.: The Facts
In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was enacted, which gave sex trafficking victims the ability to pursue civil claims against their perpetrator. It specifically granted them the right to go after repayment of attorney’s fees, damages, and punitive damages. At that time, victims were unable to sue the companies that had a part in linking them with traffickers, as companies were still shielded by the Communications Decency Act. Law enforcement experts believe that the 360% uptick in the number of sex trafficking convictions between 2001-2007 compared to the 7 year period prior was due to the enactment of TVPA. The increase in reported cases shows that victims are motivated to pursue legal action when they have reason to believe that their perpetrator will be punished and that the law is on their side.

We all should be educating our children on how to be vigilant near strangers, both online and in person. Our educators and health care workers should be properly trained on how to recognize suspicious behaviors in students, patients, and their family members. Anyone who observes or is aware of suspicious behavior should report it to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.

Here are some of the facts on sex trafficking you should know:

  • Anyone 18 or under coerced into sexual activity for payment is a victim
  • In major metropolitan areas with heavy sex trafficking activity, traffickers can make over $30,000 a week. It is a lucrative business and it’s happening right under our noses.
  • Traffickers prey on young, insecure victims, often complimenting their appearance
    • If contact is made online, they will ask to meet
    • Traffickers may stop a victim on the street or in a parking lot or mall, either on foot or in the car, and convince them to go somewhere or force them into their car
  • Many traffickers do not appear to be predators and in fact look clean cut, are well-spoken, and appear to have money
  • Many victims do not come forward because they feel guilty. Traffickers are extremely skilled in making victims feel as though they are looking out for their best interests.


Levin & Perconti Can Help
If you or someone you love is or has been a victim of sex trafficking and you believe any sort of business or online platform or website played a part, you need an attorney. The passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) signifies that online sex trafficking is an epidemic in this country and that the law not only favors victims, but wants them to come forward to punish not only their perpetrator, but anyone involved in allowing human trafficking to happen. Please, contact the personal injury attorneys of Chicago’s Levin & Perconti now for a free, confidential consultation.



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