When I visited Bon Secours in Richmond, the forensic nurses there detailed horrific, sad stories of human trafficking that happen right here in the 7th District. I was surprised to find the extent to which trafficking happens just under our noses, and we are often unaware of those being afflicted.
After my conversation with the nurses, I met with local law enforcement to ask them more about this issue. In particular, I spoke with Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade and Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard. Sheriff Leonard told me about a man who had been selling his own wife online using a website known as Backpage.com. They repeated what I had feared — trafficking is rampant here, even in Virginia. From the poorest communities to the richest communities, trafficking is everywhere. How can this crime be so pervasive when it seems so hidden?
That’s when I learned that Rep. Ann Wagner, a hardworking congresswoman from Missouri who cares deeply for these victims, had introduced the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). You see, in this internet era, the storefront for trafficking has moved from the streets to online. Websites were making tens of millions of dollars hosting the sale of women and children.
But because of broken laws and loopholes, websites could not be held accountable for hosting this modern day form of slavery. So, Congress needed to act. As Rep. Wagner summarized simply: “If it’s a crime offline, it should be a crime online as well.”
When Rep. Wagner told me about the bill, I thought back to my conversations with Bon Secours nurses and sheriffs in my district, and I immediately offered to help promote FOSTA. Together, Rep. Wagner and I pushed this bill amongst our colleagues — I worked to personally whip over 50 votes on the House floor. Not long after, this bill gained the bipartisan support it needed and easily passed the U.S. House and Senate, landing on the president’s desk for final passage. In April, President Trump signed FOSTA into law.
Soon after FOSTA became law, the Department of Justice began shutting down scores sex trafficking websites (including the chief offenders like Backpage.com). Nearly 90% of sex-trafficking sites and ads have been taken down. Others have been forced to move offshore. Banks have been able to close the accounts of internet traffickers, and experts report the online demand for commercial sex has been driven down significantly.
And more people are being helped. Victim shelters are reporting double the intake of self-referrals. Beds in shelters are almost impossible to find.
There is still more we can do to end this modern day slavery, but I am very proud of our work, and I thank Rep. Ann Wagner for leading this fight in Congress.
Rep. Brat will host Rep. Ann Wagner (MO-02) during a public forum in Glen Allen, VA at Richmond Community Church on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 1:30pm ET. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP here: https://brat.house.gov/trafficking/