Sex Trafficking

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COLUMBIA - A bill is heading to President Trump's desk which would help fight sex trafficking online. 

H.R. 1865, or the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, would allow prosecutors to hold websites accountable for facilitating the sale of unlawful sex acts. 

Nanette Ward, a board member of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition, said the sale of humans for sex online affects people in Columbia and mid-Missouri.

"There's a long history of using Craigslist and Backpage for advertisement. And we've had survivors that we've worked directly with whose personal stories included being sold, having to be advertised on Backpage," said Ward.

Those websites allow users to post advertisements without censorship. The bill would amend section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which bars prosecutors from taking action against websites for content posted by third parties.

Opponents of the bill fear it would negatively affect freedom of speech online and encourage censorship.

Keazha Berry said the internet makes it easier to force people into sex trafficking. 

"I think that it's easy to abuse people who are on there. It can give other people the chance to bring more girls into that," said Berry. 

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, helped lead an investigation into Backpage and its link to sex trafficking. She said the bill would help local law enforcement to respond to sex trafficking cases in their area.

"This is a new tool in the toolbox of the frontline of criminal prosecutions in this country, and I am so proud to have been a part of it," McCaskill said on the Senate floor.