Why a Law Center?
Until now, there has been no voice in the courts and legislatures advocating for human dignity and against all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. In the vacuum of a national legal strategy on these issues, pro-sexual exploitation lobbyists have stepped in to promote radical and damaging legislation and legal precedents promoting pornography, prostitution, sexually grooming children for abuse, increasing sex traffi cking, and more. Laws are meant to instruct citizens in virtue.
But, what are its lessons when . . .
- laws against distribution of obscenity (hardcore pornography) are not enforced
- men who buy a child for sex in 27 states can get away with it by simply saying they didn’t know the child was underage
- predators are permitted to engage in explicit sexual conversations with children online
- perpetrators of image-based sexual assaults (e.g., “upskirting” and “spycamming” and “revenge pornography”) remain unpunished because existing laws are insufficient to arrest them
- communities lack the legal expertise to strictly regulate sexually-oriented businesses like strip clubs, illicit massage parlors, and so-called sexpresso-cafes
- courts rule that online prostitution advertising platforms are immune from civil liability even when they knowingly engage in human trafficking
- sex buyers face less penalties if they had stolen a candy bar than if they purchase women and children for sex
- the brutality of pimps and sex traffickers goes unchecked because prostitution is legalized?
In such circumstances, the lack of laws or failure to enforce existing laws licenses abuse, privileges the rights of the strong over the weak and vulnerable, affi rms the notion of sexual entitlement and the dystopian vision of sex as a mere commodity, and proclaims that human dignity is cheap and disposable. Against this backdrop, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) believed it imperative to establish a Law Center to stand as both a sentry and bulwark against the destructive individuals and entities that deny or which facilitate sexual abuse and exploitation.
What is the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s Law Center?
At the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), we believe law is the greatest tool to defend human dignity against sex traffi cking, pornography, child sexual abuse, and more. It sets social norms, punishes exploiters, and gives justice to survivors.
The NCOSE Law Center is an advocate to intervene in key, precedent-setting cases and speaks up in our state and federal legislatures to impact policy for those who have no voice.
The NCOSE Law Center empowers citizens to improve their states and communities through model legislation on issues like pornography, illicit massage parlors, combating the demand for sex traffi cking and prostitution, and more.
The NCOSE Law Center also mentors and trains future lawyers and trains prosecutors to ensure a future generation of legal advocates who know how to best help victims and shape legislation that respects human safety and fl ourishing.
Resolutions Declaring Pornography a Public Health Crisis
Well over a dozen states have passed resolutions that recognize the public health harms of pornography. As of the Spring 2019, these states include, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia. These states now have greater public awareness of the harms of pornography and have a groundwork laid for later policies to help curb the growing public health harms of pornography. The resolution’s influence extends beyond U.S. borders. For example, a member of the Canadian Parliament used our resolution as the basis of a motion, which passed unanimously and led Canada to conduct a study on the public health harms of pornography, and is moving through legislatures in other countries as well.
Victory Against Grooming Tactics of Child Abusers
The NCOSE Law Center authored a key amicus brief for the Georgia Supreme Court in a case involving a child predator who claimed a constitutional right to find children online and talk to them about sex in an arousing and exploitive manner. Our legal brief helped convince the Georgia Supreme Court to rule against the child predator. The court upheld that obscene Internet contact with a minor is not “free speech”—it is child abuse.
Stopping Pro-Sexual Exploitation Lobbyists
The NCOSE Law Center filed an amicus brief at the Ninth Circuit to combat a lawsuit that claimed prostitution is protected under the right to privacy and so should be fully decriminalized—meaning there should be no laws or regulation of it at all. We knew that the undergirding legal arguments in the case jeopardized all existing state laws against prostitution, obscenity, and even sexually oriented business, and had the potential to decimate the ability for law enforcement to investigate sex trafficking cases across nearly 20% of our nation. We are proud to have provided key legal arguments in the appeal helping the court to rule favorably.
Federal Anti-Trafficking Legislation
The NCOSE Law Center played an instrumental role in helping to pass groundbreaking anti-sex trafficking legislation known as FOSTA-SESTA. Against ferocious opposition mostly from the extremely well-funded technology industry, this legislation amended the Communications Decency Act to enable victims of sex trafficking to bring civil suits against the operators of online platforms that facilitate their exploitation, and empower state attorneys general to bring criminal cases against such websites. This landmark legislation is now under legal threat in federal court, and NCOSE’s Law Center is already working to develop its legal strategy to ensure that the vital gains of the hard-fought passage FOSTA-SESTA are preserved.
Legal and Subject Matter Expertise
NCOSE’s legal and subject matter expertise is sought out by legislators and advocates from across the country and around the world. With decades of experience and expertise at its disposal, NCOSE is able to offer guidance, strategies, and opinion that influence policy and law on a diverse range of topics. From the Child Internet Protection Act and e-rate funding, obscenity law, library Internet filters, sex trafficking, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and much more, NCOSE provides vital perspective and analysis to those seeking to drive back the shadows of sexual exploitation.
Policy and Advocacy
The NCOSE Law Center developed the Freedom from Sexploitation Agenda which is a multi-point policy document providing powerful recommendations to the U.S. Congress and executive branch for combating sexual exploitation and protecting human rights. With the Freedom from Sexploitation Agenda as our policy blueprint, the Law Center engages in advocacy with federal lawmakers and bureaucrats to reform existing laws, pass new legislation when necessary, and foster policy change within the federal bureaucracy.
Symposium Agenda Copy of Summary of Research reviewed by NCOSE by topic –download here Download copies of event and speaker handouts here. Videos will be available here in the next month. View photos from the event here: There is Hope: Confronting the Rise of Child-on-Child Harmful Sexual Behavior Symposium Recap On March […]
Statement by Patrick A. Trueman, President & Chief Executive Officer, NCOSE Washington, DC – The National Center in Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) announced today that one of the nation’s leading constitutional law experts has joined the organization as Vice President and General Counsel. Mr. Benjamin W. Bull will lead NCOSE’s Law Center fighting child sexual abuse, […]
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold confirmation hearings for Mr. William Barr for the position of U.S. Attorney General of U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) next week. Help us urge the Committee to ensure Mr. Barr’s commitment to rigorous enforcement of the nation’s laws combating sexual exploitation, and to adopt proactive measures in […]
NCOSE 2018 Impact Report: The Fall of Online Trafficking Titan Backpage; Walmart Removes Cosmo; Comcast Safer for Kids; And More!
2018 was our most successful year to date, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Whether your support was financial, taking actions through our website, praying for our movement, sharing our social media posts, or simply telling your friend about the issue of sexual exploitation, you helped make 2018 the strongest year for our organization […]
This presentation will address the need to enforce federal obscenity laws, which currently prohibit distribution of obscene material (hardcore pornography) through the Internet, through cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TVs, in retail shops, through the mail, or by common carrier. The U. S. Supreme Court has always held that the distribution of obscene material is not […]
The pro-pornography lobby has a strong offense. In a devastating decision, a federal appeals court recently gutted U.S. Code Title 18 Section 2257. This regulation required pornography producers to keep stringent age records to prevent underage performers and protect children. Now, minors are at-risk for being sexually exploited by the pornography industry without any mechanisms […]
Statement by Patrick A. Trueman, President & CEO NCOSE Washington, DC – A guilty plea revealed by multiple news sources of Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer portends an end to sex trafficking as we know it in America. The U. S. Department of Justice has finally struck at the heart of the world of sex trafficking, […]
Below is a joint letter by human rights activists, organized by IAmJaneDoe, to members of Congress regarding new legislation that could dramatically decrease online sex trafficking As organizations committed to the protection of trafficking victims, we are deeply concerned by the pervasive misinformation being posited in opposition to the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of […]
Today, the governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, officially signed the joint resolution declaring pornography as a “public health crisis” in the state. The nonbinding resolution was sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and was passed with overwhelming support. It calls for education, prevention resources, and research on the negative effects of pornography. Tennessee is […]
Did you know that existing federal obscenity laws prohibit the distribution of hardcore, obscene pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite or hotel/motel TV and in sexually oriented businesses or other retail shops? I was once in charge of enforcing these laws for the U. S. Department of Justice and I know how effective they can […]
In the digital age, sex trafficking of children and adults flourishes online. Why? In large part because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) has been interpreted by federal and state courts to 1): prevent sex trafficking victims from suing websites that advertised them as for sale under either state or federal laws, and 2): prevent states from enforcing criminal laws against websites that carry ads for sex trafficking.
Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) in the early days of the Internet to protect children from online exposure to indecent content. In Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997), the Supreme Court struck down the Internet indecency provisions of the CDA but did not strike down the provisions that became 47 USC 230.
47 USC 230 was enacted in response to two court cases. In Cubby, Inc. v. CompuServe, Inc., 776 F. Supp. 135 (S.D.N.Y. 1991), CompuServe’s motion for a summary judgment was granted because the court determined that CompuServe was a distributor and not a publisher of libelous comments posted on a “computerized database” and because it had not been shown that CompuServe knew or should have known of the libelous comments. In Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Services Co., 1995 WL 323710 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1995), the court granted plaintiffs motion for partial summary judgement after determining that Prodigy was a publisher of libelous comments posted on its computer bulletin board because Prodigy had held itself out to the public and its members as controlling content and had implemented this control through its software screening program and “Guidelines” which “Board Leaders” were required to enforce.
The import of these court decisions was clear: if an online service did little or nothing to curb defamatory content, it would not be held liable; if it tried to curb such content it could be liable.
In response to Stratton Oakmont, Representatives Chris Cox (R-CA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced an amendment to the CDA which became 47 USC 230. Subsection 230(c)(1) states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
What (c)(1) does not say is that no provider or user of an interactive computer service may be treated as a distributor of information provided by another, but that is how most courts interpreted it. For a good argument that 230(c)(1) was not intended to eliminate the difference between distributors and publishers, see Barrett v. Rosenthal, 114 Cal.App.4th 1379 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004).
Congress provided additional protection for providers and users of an interactive computer services in 230(c)(2)(A) by ensuring that no provider or user is held civilly liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of objectionable material. The efforts of Prodigy when owned by IBM and Sears to make its service family friendly is a good place to begin to determine what is a good faith effort.
Furthermore, 230(c) is entitle “Protection for ‘Good Samaritan’ Blocking and Screening of Offensive Material;” and Subsection (c) is part of a law (47 U.S.C. 230) which was intended to provide “Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material.”
How then did a law intended to protect providers or users of interactive computer services who act voluntarily and in good faith to restrict access to or availability of objectionable material become a protection against civil liability for those who accept payment to carry ads for sex trafficking knowing or having reason to know the ads are for sex trafficking? Surely this was not the intent of members of Congress who voted to add Section 230 to Title 47.
Subsection 230(e)(3) makes clear that States cannot in a civil action treat a provider or user of an interactive computer service as the publisher or speaker of information provided by another and cannot hold a provider or user civilly liable on account of action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of objectionable material. But 230(e)(3) was not intended to prevent a State from criminally prosecuting a provider or user for facilitating sex trafficking, since such providers/users are not acting in good faith.
In a letter to members of Congress dated August 16, 2017 and signed by Attorneys General from 48 states, the National Association of Attorneys General had this to say:
In 2013, Attorneys General from 49 states and territories wrote to Congress, informing it that some courts have interpreted the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”) to render state and local authorities unable to take action against companies that actively profit from the promotion and facilitation of sex trafficking and crimes against children… The undersigned Attorneys General once again respectfully request… Congress amend the CDA to affirm that state, territorial, and local authorities retain their traditional jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute those who facilitate illicit acts. . . .
. . . Backpage.com is facilitating—and profiting from—these illegal activities. However, certain interpretations of the CDA have resulted in companies like Backpage.com remaining outside the reach of state and local law enforcement …We do not believe that was Congress’s intent in passing the CDA, and . . . do not believe that is Congress’s intent now. . . .
Federal enforcement alone has proved insufficient to stem the growth in online promotion of child sex trafficking. Those on the front lines of the battle against the sexual exploitation of children—state and local law enforcement—must have the clear authority to investigate and prosecute facilitators of these and other horrible crimes. . . .
Contrary to popularly held beliefs, obscenity (most hardcore pornography) is not protected Free Speech. In fact, federal obscenity laws, which are not being enforced, prohibit distribution of hardcore, obscene pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite or hotel/motel TV and in sexually oriented businesses and other retail shops. See EndSexualExploitation.org/woip for more information.
Enforcement of obscenity laws does not raise Constitutional problem – In Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571-572 (1942), the Supreme Court said: “There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene…It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.
Obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press – In Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957), Justice Brennan observed that “this Court has always assumed that obscenity is not protected by the freedoms of speech and press” (at 481). In Roth, the Supreme Court went on to hold that obscenity is “not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press” (at 485).
First Amendment was intended to protect ideas and debate, not obscene material – In Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 34 (1973), the Supreme Court said: “[T]o equate the free and robust exchange of ideas and political debate with commercial exploitation of obscene material demeans the grand conception of the First Amendment and its high purposes in the historic struggle for freedom. It is a ‘misuse of the great guarantees of free speech and…press.’”
More recently, in Ashcroft v. ACLU, 535 U.S. 564!(2002), the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to application of obscenity laws to the Internet. See also, United States v. Extreme Associates, 431 F.3d 150 (3rd Cir. 2005), cert. den., 547 U.S. 1143 (2006).
In Paris Adult Theater I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 57 (1973), the Supreme Court identified “legitimate governmental interests” that justify a prohibition on obscene materials “even if it is feasible to enforce eðective safeguards against exposure to juveniles.” These include protecting the community environment, public safety, morality and family life. The Court also said there is a “right of the Nation and of the states to maintain a decent society” (at 59).
The display of pornography is also a frequent factor in workplace sexual harassment cases, and time wasted viewing pornography reduces worker productivity. Our nation’s role in polluting the world with pornography is also making the war against terrorism more diðcult. Common sense should also inform us that when children are exposed to graphic depictions of hardcore adult pornography their attitudes about sex, sexual desires and sexual behavior can be influenced for the worst. And especially on the Internet, large numbers of children are being exposed to hardcore adult pornography.
According to the results of a national opinion poll commissioned by Morality in Media and conducted by Harris Interactive in April 2008: 75% of adult Americans said they would support the next President were he to do all in his or constitutional power to ensure that federal obscenity laws are enforced vigorously.
Decriminalized prostitution refers to the removal of laws criminalizing the sex trade. One form of decriminalization—commonly referred to as the Nordic model—targets only individuals involved in the selling of sex (i.e. prostituting persons); other forms of decriminalization may seek to decriminalize all parties involved in the provisioning, buying, and selling of sex. Thus, “full” decriminalization refers to the repeal of laws pertaining to pimping, brothel keeping, and sex buyers, as well as those who sell sex.
Legalized prostitution is generally understood to be regulated prostitution, although the term may also be used to refer to jurisdictions where there is no law explicitly prohibiting prostitution. Under systems of legalized prostitution, various regulations governing how commercial sex transaction are to be conducted are instituted. Such regulations may include brothel licensing requirements and restrictions on where brothels can locate, as well as establish requirements that prostituting persons officially register with the government, undergo compulsory health checks, and pay taxes on proceeds from prostitution.
A third approach to prostitution is known as prohibition. According to this approach all prostitution is viewed as criminal activity and all activities connected with prostitution (i.e. soliciting, procuring, pimping, brothel keeping) are criminalized.
Decriminalization of prostitution gives social sanction to sexual exploitation.
We believe prostitution is a system of sexual exploitation that requires Abolition, not social sanction. It is a system whereby individuals are supplied as public, sexual commodities, which preys upon vulnerable members of society and is rife with violence against those sold for sex. Decriminalization of prostitution in no way rectifies the conditions of inequality, abuse, violence, and dehumanization which animate all forms of prostitution—it tragically assents to them.
At its best, decriminalization of prostitution may be a crude and naïve attempt to ameliorate deeply entrenched sexual exploitation. But at its worst, decriminalization of prostitution is a nefarious miscarriage of justice that “disappears” egregious human rights abuses by use of political smoke and mirrors that authorize profiteering from sexual violence, and accede to a right of some individuals to purchase other human beings for sex. In sum, decriminalization grants impunity to pimps, magically morphing them into reputable, sexually-oriented business entrepreneurs, and mystically transforming sex buyers into respectable clients.
 Importantly, when NCOSE decries prostitution, we are condemning prostitution as a system whereby human beings are openly bought and sold for sex, not the persons used and exploited by that system.
 Importantly, when NCOSE decries prostitution, we are condemning prostitution as a system whereby human beings are openly bought and sold for sex, not the persons used and exploited by that system.
How to get SOBs out of your community:
A Primer On Zoning And Licensing Of Sexually Oriented Businesses – Though SOBs have some First Amendment protection, county and town councils can AND SHOULD use zoning and licensing authority to control their negative secondary effects. SOBs can, in fact be regulated in a more stringent fashion than other types of businesses that have no First Amendment protection. (Written by Alliance Defending Freedom)
How To Get Porn Out Of Video Stores – Here is a blueprint for action against the sale and rental of hardcore pornography in your community’s “mainstream” video store(s). (Written by Robert Peters, President Emeritus of Morality In Media)
Studies on SOBs
The purpose of these studies is to inform and alert municipalities regarding the law on sexually oriented businesses and on ordinances that have passed judicial scrutiny.
- Nude Dancing Survey of Laws and Rights
- Manual on Massage Parlor Regulation
- Construction of Open Booth Regulations (back room with contiguous booths for the viewing through a glass of a female in a sexually explicit sexual activity)
- Lap Dancing and Table Dancing Ordinance Preparation
- Swingers Club Case Law Study
- Escort and Outcall Ordinance Preparation
Find a brief explanation of child pornography at the U.S. Department of Justice’s website here.
The United Nations defines human trafficking in Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons as:
“the recruitment … by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion,… of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services…”
Report it to your local police and FBI office. Also report it to the Cyber Tipline with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as to the FBI headquarters.