Free Speech or Slavery Profiteering?: Solutions for Policing Online Sex-Trafficking Advertisement

Marguerite A. O’Brien · 20 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 289

Abstract

Online sex trafficking is big business. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that sex trafficking generates billions of dollars per year. The marketplace for sex has moved from the street corner to classified ad websites such as Backpage.com, and all too often the victims of online sex trafficking are minors. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported an 846 percent increase in reports of child sexual exploitation between 2010 and 2015—growth the organization attributes to the availability of sex ads on websites such as Backpage.com. Law enforcement agencies and victims have sought to hold Backpage.com liable for facilitating human sex trafficking. To defend against this barrage of litigation, Backpage.com has argued that a statutory corollary of the First Amendment insulates the company from liability. Using Backpage.com as a paradigm, this Note analyzes the constitutional and policy tensions underlying regulation of online sex trafficking and advocates a crowdsourced model for monitoring online sex advertisement.