By / Apr 5

Last month the U.S. Senate passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), legislation intended to limit online sex trafficking. (A similar bill—the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)—was also passed by the House, and the combined legislation is known as FOSTA-SESTA.) Here are five facts you should know about this anti-trafficking legislation.

Here are 5 facts about the ‘Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act’

1. For more than twenty years, a loophole in a federal law has allowed sex trafficking to thrive online. In 1996 Congress passed the Communications Decency Act, which attempted to regulate the exposure of indecent and obscene material directed toward children. The effectiveness of the Decency Act, though, was undermined because the law has been interpreted to say that “operators of internet services” (such as websites) are not to be legally liable for the words of third parties who use their services.

2. Because of this loophole, online content providers that post classified ads have been allowed to advertise prostitution with near impunity. A prime example is, which, according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, posts one million sex ads a day. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children previously testified in a Senate subcommittee that 71 percent of all suspected child sex trafficking cases have a link to Backpage. When challenged in state courts, Backpage has repeatedly prevailed based on the interpretation that the Decency Act protects them from prosecution for the criminal wrongdoing of their customers.

3. FOSTA-SESTA amends federal law to specify that the Decency Act does not prevent websites from being subjected to civil action or criminal prosecution under state or federal criminal or civil laws relating to sex trafficking of children or sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion. Additionally, the legislation amends the federal criminal code to specify that the violation for benefiting from “participation in a venture” engaged in sex trafficking includes knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating the violation.

4. FOSTA-SESTA also allows state attorneys general to bring civil actions in U.S. district courts on behalf of the state’s residents if the attorney general believes an interest of the residents has been or is threatened or adversely affected by any person who knowingly participates in sex trafficking.

5. Even though the legislation has not yet been signed into law, it is already motivating online content providers to change their policies. According to Susan Yoshihara of the Center for Family and Human Rights,

Cityvibe shut down completely, the Erotic Review, the ‘Yelp of the sex trade’ where men rate their experiences with trafficking victims, shut down advertisement boards in the United States, NightShift shut down to review policies, VerifyHim shut down its ‘newsreel,’ Craigslist personals section was shut down, Reddit’s prostitution-related “subreddits” were marked private and the site instituted new policies banning the sale of sex acts and drugs, Google reportedly deleted its publicly shared commercial sex-related advertising, reportedly removed its commercial sex-related advertising sites, Paypal reportedly disabled advertised accounts for commercial sex-related payment, Rubmaps, Erotic Monkey, and USA Sex Guide had extended maintenance periods over the weekend, suggesting upcoming changes due to the new law, Microsoft is issuing new Terms of Service effective May 1st covering all of its platforms, including Skype and Xbox, to urge users not to use the services to share pornography or criminal activity.

By / Mar 2

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives advanced the cause of human dignity by voting to pass H.R. 1865, legislation designed to curtail online sex trafficking. The bipartisan bill Allow States and Victims to Fight Sex Trafficking Act—better known as FOSTA—passed by an overwhelming margin, 388-25. The measure specifically targets websites that promote sex trafficking  of both adults and children. It will now be taken up in the U.S. Senate, where similar legislation has already gained substantial support.

Online sex trafficking

Thousands of people are victims of sex trafficking in the United States every year. In recent decades, the internet has become the single greatest avenue for the proliferation of sex trafficking. And in numerous cases, internet companies that promote sex trafficking have successfully avoided prosecution and civil lawsuits by exploiting current laws.

At present, websites such as Backpage(dot)com that promote sex trafficking are able to evade legal penalties through a provision in the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from liability for material posted by third parties. This enables Backpage and similar websites to host thousands of such “third party” advertisements that promote prostitution and sex trafficking. In passing FOSTA—which would amend the CDA to allow prosecutors, state attorneys general and victims to bring criminal and civil actions against a website if its conduct violates federal sex trafficking laws—the House acted to close this loophole. If enacted into law, FOSTA would make all parties who knowingly assist, support, or facilitate a violation to be subject to both criminal prosecution and civil action.


The bill was introduced last year by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), and eventually gained more than 170 cosponsors. Wagner, a former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, became involved in the issue of sex trafficking after witnessing it firsthand in eastern Europe. She stated that she wrote the bill “because it is heartbreaking to watch survivors struggle to piece their lives back together alone, while our justice system shields the websites that sold them.”

In addition to its widespread support in the House, FOSTA also won the support of executives in big tech including Facebook, IBM, Oracle, and Hewlett Packard. Even so, several tech firms including Google have opposed these efforts to amend the CDA on the grounds the reforms as proposed could erode the very protections which they say “enabled the growth of the internet.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)authored the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA), the Senate’s bill attempting to address the same problem as FOSTA, joined a number of senators in releasing statements supporting the House’s passage of the bill and calling for the Senate to act quickly to pass the bill.   Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, White House advisor Ivanka Trump also expressed support for FOSTA: “Looking forward to today’s House vote on legislation that will help prevent online sex trafficking. The perpetrators of this horrific crime need to be held accountable, and we must continue to take steps to combat all forms of sex trafficking.”

Though the White House has expressed concerns over certain language in the bill, which may be altered as the legislation moves to the Senate, the Administration is broadly supportive of these efforts to end internet sex trafficking.

Fighting for human dignity

In offering his support for FOSTA, Speaker Paul Ryan described sex trafficking as “modern day slavery.” The reality is that sex trafficking ruins lives. And for many of its victims, it is a living hell.

Sex trafficking is a human dignity issue because every person bears the image of God. Those who are victimized by this cruelty not only deserve our mercy and compassion; they deserve the full protection of law and the means to pursue justice through our legal system. Conversely, those who perpetrate sex trafficking intentionally violate the image of God. They are criminals, and we must ensure that our laws hold them fully accountable.

FOSTA is an essential step toward justice and ending sex trafficking in America. Tuesday, Rep. Wagner and the House took an important step in the fight against this evil. It is my hope that the Senate will soon send this legislation to the president’s desk.  

By / Feb 27

Matt, Steven and Travis check in on a variety of policy items the ERLC is paying attention to as Congress returns to work. Topics include religious freedom in Malaysia; a U.S House vote in the fight against online sex trafficking; foster care reform. The team also discusses recent decisions in court cases DHS v. Regents Of Univ. Of Cal. and Zarda v. Altitude Express.


Fighting online sex trafficking

Foster care reform

  • Event hosted by AEI: Reforming foster care systems at the state level
    • Hosted by Naomi Schaeffer Riley, Remarks from Gov. Matt Bevin
    • Jerry Milner, associate commissioner at the Children’s Bureau at HHS
    • Ronald Richter, CEO & executive director of the Jewish Child Care Association
    • Robin Wilson, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois’ College of Law
  • ERLC resources on foster care

Court cases


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By / Nov 20

We live in a world where issues arise in the news and culture daily. Behind every issue, however, is a person—a person made in the image of God. This new ERLC Podcast series, “How to Handle,” will tackle tough issues for today with the hopes of equipping the church on how to handle the topic, care for those struggling with sin and temptation, and care for those who have been hurt. 

Subscribe here

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By / Aug 14

Matt Hawkins moderates a panel discussion on human trafficking with Kimberly Merida, Ashleigh Chapman, Natasha Robinson, and Travis Wussow. The panel was part of the 2017 Evangelicals for Life conference. Human Trafficking

Guest links

Evangelicals for Life conference


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By / Jul 7

On Tuesday, June 27, the U.S. State Department released its 17th annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which analyzes the extent to which 188 countries combat human trafficking and slavery. Each country is given a score of either Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, or Tier 3, based on the extent to which that country prevents human trafficking, protects the victims of human trafficking, and prosecutes perpetrators of human trafficking.

This year, 21 countries were downgraded on the list, while 27 countries were upgraded. Twenty-three nations were placed on the Tier 3 list, which indicates a lack of compliance with the bare minimum standards of prevention, protection, and prosecution. The 36 countries included on the Tier 1 list not only meet the minimum standards but are increasingly more effective in doing so.

The report was released with a significant press release featuring Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ivanka Trump, First Daughter and Advisor to the President. Such high-profile releases are an encouraging signal and ensure that these reports receive the attention they deserve in the United States and the international community.

Here are three things to know following the release of the report:

1. China was downgraded to Tier 3 status.

In 2014 and 2015, China was listed on the Tier 2 Watch List. A country can only remain on the watch list for two years before either being upgraded or downgraded. In 2016, China received a waiver to remain on the Watch List after submitting a national action plan that, if fully implemented, would have significantly contributed to efforts to eliminate human trafficking. This year, China joined countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russia, and North Korea on the Tier 3 list.

The report highlighted the fact that thousands of North Koreans are forced to work in Chinese labor camps, where their wages are sent to fund the Korean government. In drug rehabilitation centers, individuals are indefinitely detained without a proper trial. Law enforcement does not properly screen individuals arrested for prostitution to see if they are victims of human trafficking. Bribery and collusion continue amongst police and traffickers. Access to necessary rehabilitation services are limited based upon a victim's location and gender. Finally, Chinese law does not fully criminalize prostitution of minors, and promotes definitions of human trafficking that vary with international law. Fortunately, the Trump administration has condemned the misconduct within China.

The demotion of China to Tier 3 is the Trump administration's first major rebuke of Chinese human rights violations. Being labeled a Tier 3 country comes with real consequences that could affect China-U.S. relations for the next year. Non-humanitarian foreign aid may be limited. Chinese government officials may not receive funding for educational programs. And the U.S. may oppose China's requests for assistance from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. President Trump has the ability to waive these sanctions if he views they threaten United States' interests, but the consequences looming for China are very real. This could become an issue in negotiations over finding solutions for the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program.

2. Myanmar and Iraq were upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2.

The TIP report indicates that neither Burma nor Iraq meet the minimal standards of protection, prevention, and prosecution, but that both nations are making significant efforts to do so, upgrading both nations from Tier 3 to Tier 2. A number of human rights groups are upset by this decision, considering the use of child soldiers, a form of human trafficking, within the past year by both countries.

Reports indicate that there is disagreement amongst State Department officials over the inclusion of Iraq and Myanmar on the Child Soldier Prevention Act List. A June report from the United Nations indicates that children are being released from combat in Myanmar, as nations feel international pressure to cease the practice. Still, eight different Burmese groups recruit and utilize child soldiers for combat. In the geo-politically complex nation of Iraq, the United Nations documented the government-use of child soldiers in 2016 in the fight against terrorism, forcing the State Department to make difficult decisions about engagement with Iraqi officials.

3. The Gulf States are taking steps to reduce human trafficking.

The Gulf States, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, are historically notorious for violating human rights, including failing to take human trafficking within its borders. Within the last year, there have been some encouraging signs although much work remains to be done.

Saudi Arabia, the United States’ closest ally in the region, received a waiver to remain on the Tier 2 Watch List for a third year after drafting a national anti-trafficking action plan for 2017–2020. The plan allocates $9.6 million for its permanent committee on combating trafficking in persons. Qatar, which was on the Tier 2 Watch List in 2016, was upgraded to Tier 2. Within the past year, it increased the number of prosecutions and convictions for trafficking-related offenses, and establishing a coordinating body to facilitate anti-trafficking initiatives and enact legislation to significantly reduce vulnerability to forced labor. Kuwait was placed on the Tier 2 Watch list for the second year in a row, after spending six years on the Tier 3 list. The Kuwaiti government, along with Oman, are making “significant efforts” to combat the problem of labor and sex slavery according to the State Department report.

Despite these improvements, injustice is still reality for scores of trafficking victims across the Middle East. Kuwaiti law enforcement remains a corrupt institution that discourages victims of trafficking from reporting their abuses. The Omani judicial system attempts to mediate forced labor reports in labor court rather than prosecute the criminal activity of slavery. And Saudi officials identify only a fraction of the trafficking victims that live within the country. As we pray for our persecuted Christian brothers in the Persian Gulf, may we also remember the oppressed and enslaved.


With an estimated 45 million slaves around the world, there is significant work that must be done to bring an end to human trafficking. The TIP Report is one tool used to pressure governments around the world to implement policies that prevent forced labor and the underground sex trade. As governments take steps to fight injustice, individuals become more aware of the issue of human trafficking, and organizations gather information about the global trafficking problem, there is hope that this problem will one day come to an end.

ERLC Policy Intern Zack Jones contributed to this article.

By / May 17

“Together we can end human trafficking,” she said to a crowd of over 46,000 Christians in downtown Atlanta. As I sat in the nosebleed section of the arena, I found myself actually sitting in disbelief. I knew that I was supposed to immediately jump on board with a hearty “Amen. Let’s get to work!” But I had questions. You see, I’m not a lawyer or police officer. Nor am I Liam Neeson’s character, Bryan Mills, from the 2008 hit movie, Taken. With that said, it should be obvious to the reader that I do not possess a “particular set of skills.”

Rather, I am a pastor. I had sensed a calling to vocational Christian ministry and subsequently pursued a theological education. But as knowledgeable as my professors in seminary were, they could not prepare me for this moment. How could I, a Christian minister, fight human trafficking? For that matter, how could my church respond?

According to the Global Slavery Index, there are as many as 45.8 million people around the world held in what amounts to modern day slavery.[1] Cases have been reported in every country, as well as every state in the U.S. Whether the victimized are trafficked into the commercial sex industry, the agricultural sector or the hospitality and service industries, each person has one thing in common: they are vulnerable. Human trafficking can be defined as the exploitation of vulnerability for commercial gain. For this reason, human trafficking can happen anywhere because there are vulnerable people everywhere.

The God of the vulnerable

Vulnerability should not be a new idea for the Christian community. As a matter of fact, it is a key theme throughout both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. A cursory reading will reveal that God identifies not with the earthly elite, but with those who lack power, protection and social status.

God, by virtue of his character, desires to bring “justice” to those who are in need of it. This concept can be clearly seen as the word “justice” is found over 200 times in the Bible. Its Hebrew form, mishpat, can mean “to treat people equitably,” or “to give them what they are due. In the Old Testament, God is so clearly known by this love for justice that he is identified as the “God of Justice” (Isa. 30:18; 61:6; Mal. 2:17). One particular Hebrew writer goes as far as describing him as the “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psa. 68:5; Exod. 22:21-24; Lev. 23:22; Deut. 24:19, 26:12).

In the New Testament, the reader discovers that the ministry of both Jesus and the early church is marked by this distinct attribute. In his inaugural address, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 explaining that he is the messiah that has come to “proclaim good news to the poor.” This “good news” was that Christ was bringing a new kingdom to bear; a kingdom where justice, not injustice, had the final word (Luke 4:18-20). With this in mind, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote to the early Christian church, explaining that the “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). In other words, not only does God identify with marginalized people, but he challenges his followers to join him by living justly.

How to join God in the work of justice

In his seminal work, Experiencing God, author Henry Blackaby explains that for the Christian the key to discovering the will of God for one’s life is to “find where God is at work and to join him there.” However, the Scriptures testify that if we desire to find where God is at work, one need only to identify those who are most vulnerable to exploitation. In essence, the believer does not have to bring the God of Justice to those who are hurting because he has already arrived and is inviting us to participate. With that said, how can the local church join God in the work of justice?  

We can join God in his work by recognizing and responding to the vulnerabilities in our communities.

First, we must recognize our own vulnerability. For many of us, we would rather run from our weaknesses than acknowledge them; however, it is our vulnerability that actually gives us the platform to serve other broken people. The recognition of our own frailty, though sobering, levels the “playing field,” so-to-speak. Whether we are standing in line at a soup kitchen on Saturday night or sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, we are all people in need of a Savior. For this reason, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, identified with each of us by being born into abject poverty to a subjugated people over 2,000 years ago. Christ willingly chose to save the vulnerable from death by becoming vulnerable to death. As we reflect on the dire nature of our situation, namely that our sinfulness required Christ to live, die, and rise in our place, we are compelled to serve others. In other words, as we become acquainted with our own vulnerability, we are better prepared to notice those in need around us.

With that in mind, we can join God in his work by recognizing and responding to the vulnerabilities in our communities. It is said that someone once asked Mother Teresa how she dealt with global poverty. Her answer seemed remarkably simplistic: "You do the thing that's in front of you."[2] The best way to discover who is most vulnerable in your community is to ask your community. Start by setting up appointments with local law enforcement, social service providers, NGOs, and even the vulnerable themselves. Ask each of them to share what they think are the greatest needs facing your community. The added benefit of this approach is that as you listen, you will also discover people and organizations with whom your church can collaborate to better serve your community.

Too often, when we hear about global injustices, like human trafficking, we are left feeling helpless and overwhelmed. We are also reminded, however, that we are not alone. As Christians, we have been invited to join the God of Justice as he brings a kingdom without exploitation. Together we can end human trafficking.

Originally published by Christian Legal Society in their magazine, The Christian Lawyer (Spring 2017).


  1. ^ The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that there could be as few as 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.
  2. ^ This story is recounted in Corban Addison’s Book, A Walk Across the Sun.
By / Sep 20

David Platt's address at the 2015 National Conference was titled "End It: The Power of the Gospel to Address the Crisis of Human Trafficking."

By / Aug 2

Joseph and Laura Thigpen discuss how churches can get involved in the fight against human trafficking.

By / Jul 1

Every Friday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

  1. Major bombing in Istanbul airport kills 41, wounds 230. The attack has not yet been claimed by any terrorist network, but many analysts argue that the attack contains “the hallmarks” of an ISIS attack. The three attackers are from former Soviet states: Dagestan in the Caucuses region of Russia (the same region where the Boston Marathon bombers were from), Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Fox News is reporting that mastermind of the attack appears to be a one-armed Chechen who was formerly a rebel against Russia but joined ISIS as early as 2014.
  2. U.S. State Department releases Trafficking in Persons Report. The Trafficking in Persons report ranks every country in the world, including the United States, on its record of and commitment to combatting human trafficking. A startling 27 countries were downgraded this year, compared to only 20 upgrades, a bad sign for global efforts to combat human trafficking. Haiti, Myanmar, Djibouti, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Turkmenistan, and Sudan were downgraded to the Tier 3 list, reserved for those countries where human trafficking is most prevalent and where the government is doing the least to combat it.
  3. In Egypt, a mob of over 1,000 radical Islamists attacked Christian homes near Alexandria. The attack occurred over rumors that a Christian man was planning to use his house as a church. In Egypt, it is illegal to construct a church without express approval from the President, a law that dates back to the rule of President Hosni Mubarak. This kind of mob violence is not uncommon in Egypt, and often occurs with tacit approval from the government. The victim, Naim Aziz Moussa, told the World Watch Monitor, “The police chief could see me bleeding from my wounds. I complained to him about what happened to me. He said I deserved this, and more.”
  4. Palestinian kills 13-year-old Israeli-American girl in her sleep. The attacker, a 19-year-old Palestinian, was killed by Israeli security forces responding to the attack. The attacker broke into the family’s home, which is located in Kiryat Arba, an Israeli settlement near Hebron. The attack is part of an uptick in violence during Ramadan, which is expected to end July 5.
  5. Turkey moves to normalize relationship with Russia and Israel. Turkey has had strained relationships with both countries: Russia because Turkish forces downed a Russian jet last year; Israel because Israeli forces attacked a flotilla headed for Gaza, killing 10 Turkish activists. Turkish President Erdogan issued a surprise apology to Russia over the downing of the Russian plane. Israel, for its part, has agreed to transfer $20m to Turkey in compensation and receive 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza, ending a 6-year rift.

Matt Mihelic contributed to this post. Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].