In April, President Trump signed into law FOSTA-SESTA in an attempt to cut down on online sex trafficking ads. Five months later, sponsors of the House bill, Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), and Senate bill, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) claim to be winning the fight against traffickers.
Rep. Ann Wagner, the key sponsor of FOSTA, released a video on July 20 in which she says, “We have shut down nearly 90 percent of the online sex trafficking business and ads.” But is this statistic true?
Related Campaign: Protect runaway & homeless youth from trafficking.
Glenn Kessler from The Washington Post did some fact checking:
When asked for evidence, Wagner’s office sent a chart that tracked all sex-related advertising, saying that it showed weekly global ad volume dropped 87 percent from January to April.
The chart was generated through a system called Memex, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA Memex has since evolved into Tellfinder, managed by Uncharted Software.
The biggest drop in ads came after the shutdown of Backpage, which came even before Trump signed FOSTA-SESTA into law.
Wagner’s staff noted that a drop also took place after the laws achieved final passage in Congress on March 21, prompting sex-oriented websites such as CityVibe and the Erotic Review to begin to shut down in the United States.
Well, it turns out that after that initial drop, advertising for the sex trade appears to have rebounded, such as on new websites that mimic Backpage with names like “Bedpage.”
Worldwide ads had a daily average of about 105,000 when FOSTA-SESTA passed on March 21 and had dropped 28 percent by the time Backpage was closed on April 5.
It then plunged another 75 percent and reached a low of 19,456 on April 17, for a total decline of about 82 percent.
In other words, “The volume of ads dropped dramatically after the shutdown of Backpage but has been climbing since,” said Chris Dickson, director of research engineering at Uncharted. “There is now a volume approaching what we observed before.”
Wagner’s claim is also based on her belief that all sex work equates to sex trafficking. In a House floor speech in July, she said, “Signing FOSTA into law has decimated the online sex trade that fuels human trafficking in America.”
Although she celebrates a decline in online “sex-trafficking business and ads,” in truth she is measuring the decline in online advertising for all sex work.
The conclusion? “Wagner may be sincere in her belief that sex work in general fuels human trafficking but it’s a bit of stretch to say a 90 percent decline in sex-trade ads means there is a 90 percent decline in the sex-trafficking business,” writes Kessler.
“There’s really no way to be sure, and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise.”
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