Baltimore City prosecutors recently indicted a Baltimore City man who had groomed victims as young as 15 on social media and trafficked them into prostitution.
The defendant, Donte Alexander Barr, faces 19 criminal counts, including soliciting minors and human trafficking 25 women ranging in age from 15 to 18. State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby clearly understands human trafficking, describing it as “a form of modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud and/or coercion to recruit, transport, abduct or deceive vulnerable individuals, including children” and noting that it is “a hidden crime” because survivors suffer intense trauma, fear the traffickers, and distrust law enforcement.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Barr carried out his prostitution enterprise by using social media and other Internet sources, including posting more than 500 advertisements on the website Backpage.com. This is a significant matter because just months ago, Congress passed and the President signed a new law, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (“FOSTA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2421A.
FOSTA Allows Justice
FOSTA provides for up to 25 years in prison for anyone who owns, operates, or manages a “interactive computer service,” which the Communications Decency Act defines as “any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions” 47 U.S.C. § 230(f)(2). This includes Backpage.com, escort service websites, and perhaps even Google and Facebook, both of which initially opposed this new law.
This is a significant development because while survivors of human trafficking can sue those involved in their exploitation under the Trafficking Victims Protect Reauthorization Act, including those less directly involved such as hotels, survivors have lost lawsuits against the websites where traffickers sell them such as Backpage.com. Those lawsuits mostly failed because the Communications Decency Act provided a “safe harbor” for companies that were not directly involved in the advertisements, which in the case of Backpage.com actually turned out to be untrue; the company was involved in the ads. Nevertheless, the new FOSTA law was passed to hold websites accountable for their role in trafficking.
As of April 11, 2018, any website or other entity that “conspires or attempts to do so, with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person . . . .” 18 U.S.C.A § 2421A(a) can be sued by survivors. The law provides a private cause of action to recover damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees. Id. at § 2421A(c). Attorneys’ fees is particularly powerful because it allows attorneys to take more cases, cases where the damages may not be large enough to warrant the traditional contingency model, and for survivors who can retain more of the recovery for themselves rather than having to use some of it to pay for legal representation.
What all this means is that survivors of sex trafficking have another source of recovery – websites and other Internet-based companies. That could be very important for people like the 25 Baltimore women who Donte Alexander Barr allegedly trafficked.
If you know someone who has been involved in human trafficking, there is help. Contact us now.