Attorney General Mark Herring voiced his support Monday for the proposed Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, a bill currently before the United States Senate which would aid the prevention of human trafficking by providing greater oversight of websites which supply “adult services.”
“The use of the ‘adult services sections’ on websites has created virtual brothels where children and other trafficking victims are bought and sold using euphemistic labels such as ‘escorts,’” a press release from the attorney general’s office read.
Because Internet ads can be easily purchased, traffickers are able to quickly move ads marketing trafficking victims to parts of the country with high demand, allowing traffickers to maximize profit and evade detection. These activities also allow organized crime groups and street gangs to facilitate the buying and selling of such trafficking victims with relative ease.
Awareness around the issue heightened in recent years with the increased popularity of Craigslist, a website for classified ads which until 2010 had an "adult services" section of its website. Seventeen attorneys general asked the company to remove the section, saying it facilitated prostitution and human trafficking. Though the company promised to provide more rigorous oversight of the advertisements users post, it is not required by law to do so, and is protected under federal law to run such adult services ads.
The SAVE Act would require these websites to verify both the identity of those posting advertisements and the age of those who appear in them.
"Human trafficking has become a quickly growing concern in this country, with victims representing all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds," Herring said in a press release. "This bill will create another layer of oversight for websites that are used to facilitate this modern day form of slavery."
Human trafficking generates about $150 billion each year, according to the press release. The FBI estimates that nearly 300,000 youths in the United States alone are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Just last week, a Harrisonburg resident was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to a human trafficking charge filed during the summer. In a one-week period this June, a nationwide FBI crackdown led to the arrest of 281 alleged sex offenders and liberated 168 child prostitutes, many of whom were offered for sale on websites this law hopes to regulate.
Herring’s office has conducted more than 50 training sessions in the last two years to help local law enforcement and other relevant parties learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking and successfully prosecute those who are caught facilitating it.