April 12, 2018
Professor Penny Venetis of Rutgers Law School.

Rutgers Law School celebrated the passage of a statute to curb sex trafficking online – called Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). The bills, known as FOSTA-SESTA were signed into law by the president on Wednesday.

Rutgers Law Professor Penny Venetis, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, spent over five years advocating for the statute's passage that allow human trafficking victims to sue online entities that facilitate trafficking.

She worked closely with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to draft the statute. 

“This groundbreaking bill is an effort to bring justice closer to all those who tragically have been victims of traffickers, only to survive, and then be lost again in the morass of current legal conflicts and barriers to having their day in court,” said the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking. “We look forward to a day when people being sold for profit, will truly be part of our country's past. When that story is written, this law can be part of that victory. Thank you to all those who have contributed to this accomplishment.”

Her efforts to hold online entities that facilitate child sex trafficking accountable are featured in the acclaimed award-winning documentary I AM JANE DOE.  Professor Venetis also devised novel litigation theories to hold online companies that facilitate sex trafficking accountable.  One of those cases is pending in federal court in Florida.

The new law, enacted April 11, corrects a handful of federal judicial opinions that found that online service providers were immunized from lawsuits that would bind brick-and-mortar businesses.  Those opinions essentially provided cover for online service providers to engage openly in illegal activity. Four years ago, Venetis defended New Jersey's anti-trafficking laws in federal court, advocated as amicus counsel on behalf of fifty public interest organizations and service providers for victims of human trafficking.  Relying on precedents in other jurisdictions, the federal court immunized Backpage.com from suit.

Last year, the U.S. Senate published two comprehensive reports linking Backpage.com to child sex trafficking. While on leave from Rutgers, Venetis was called upon by the U.S. Senate to file an amicus brief defending its ability to subpoena documents from Backpage.com and to hold Backpage in contempt of the Senate for failing to appear at hearings.  Backpage.com was recently shut down by the FBI and its two principals were indicted on multiple charges.

"This is a huge victory for human trafficking victims, who can now sue all of the people and entities who violate their most fundamental human and civil rights.  Incorporating online should not be a shield for those who commit heinous human rights violations," says Venetis.  "Now the Attorney General of NJ can work with advocates and trafficking survivors to stop child sex trafficking," she added.

Rutgers Law Media Contacts:
Mike Sepanic (Camden); Elizabeth Moore (Newark)

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