(BCN) – A new bill to combat online sex trafficking and exploitation will find its way through the California Senate.
On Tuesday, Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) passed laws that allow victims, including children and their parents, to bring civil claims against distributors of nude or sexual photos and videos – the first of its kind in the nation .
Cortese, who worked on the bill with the California Women’s Law Center, local attorneys and sexual assault survivors, said the goal was to “end human trafficking in the digital age.”
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In essence, this means dismantling the billion dollar industry that profits from the distribution of content related to sexual abuse, assault and rape, and preventing individuals and organizations from sharing such content.
“Sex trafficking in unwilling victims of all ages, including children, is a major issue in our state,” Cortese said at a news conference. “And the internet is his biggest platform.”
Last year, 69 million videos and other forms of sexual abuse found online were reported to US authorities, according to Cortese.
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According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, California had by far the most widely reported cases of human trafficking.
Often times, these sexual assault victims are “repetitively attacked” by posting sexual videos or photos of them on sites like Pornhub, which according to online advertisements attracts more than 3.5 billion visitors and nearly 3 billion ad impressions annually to Service Traffic Junky.
“Websites incite and benefit from this abuse because billions of review content receives billions of ad impressions every day,” said Cortese. “That is what this bill aims for.”
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It is not just those who are sexually trafficked or raped who fall victim to online sex trafficking. Cortese underlined that even videos or photos taken consensually but shared without anyone’s consent constitute a form of abuse and sexual assault.
The new SB 435 bill would allow victims of online sexual assault to bring civil damages claims against any person or organization that “makes, receives, re-uploads, or redistributes content in any form, including electronic distribution, non-consensual, sexually explicit.”
Electronic distribution means “transmission or redistribution by electronic means, including but not limited to transmission, publication for public viewing, or distribution through an Internet website, platform, application, peer-to-peer file sharing or other online mechanism”; Cortese said.
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In addition to the harm awarded to the victim, the law requires the perpetrator to pay $ 100,000 for every two hours of online exposure to remove the content upon prior notice. The amount will be doubled to $ 200,000. Every two hours the victim is a minor under the age of 18.
Each online service quoted would have to publish this violation publicly on its website.
Ruth Silver Taube, a commissioner for the Santa Clara County’s Human Trafficking Commission, said this new law would “provide relief to online sex trafficking survivors who currently do not exist under California law.”
“This law provides a strong incentive to mine the material instead of walking as usual, while the victim who has been exploited against his will continues to suffer,” Taube said.
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Current civil laws instead create a “blanket exception” for material that has already been distributed by others at some point and give victims very little recourse to remove content, said former Congregation MP Betsy Butler.
“The fact is, we just haven’t updated our laws to include penalties that fit the schedule and financial scale of our realities in the digital age,” said Butler, who is now the executive director of the California Women’s Law Center.
Cortese noted that for many victims, online sexual assault “can be a matter of life or death for the victim”.
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Sheila Pott said she knew this firsthand. Her daughter Audrie Pott committed suicide in 2012, eight days after she was sexually assaulted and nude photos of her were posted online.
Audrie was a 15-year-old student at Saratoga High School at the time.
“Sharing nude pictures without consent is one of the most cruel forms of digital torture, and because it happened to Audrie and we know the pain it causes,” Pott said. “This bill has been carefully put together and, when passed, will provide a powerful tool for the victims of this horrific crime.”
Cortese said he understood there might be some logistical concerns or suggestions to strengthen the law, but would be surprised if there was a legitimate opposition to such a bill.
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“As with any type of legislation, when there are practical details, like how best to make people aware, we are all ears. But we can’t let this go on, ”said Cortese. “I think people who have some sort of moral compass that represents both individuals and the corporate world will come forward and (agree).”
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