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Dianne F.
Democrat CA

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  • Directing Senate Legal Counsel to Bring a Civil Action

    by Senator Dianne Feinstein

    Posted on 2016-03-17

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    FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I wish to express my strong support for the resolution to enforce the subpoena against backpage's CEO Carl Ferrer.

    From my work as chairman and now ranking member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, I know how important congressional investigations can be to ensure that we have all the facts, and that is the type of issue before us today.

    In this case, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is conducting a bipartisan investigation into the use of the Internet to facilitate sex trafficking, particularly sex trafficking of minors. As my colleagues know, this has been an area I have worked to address legislatively, including in an amendment to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act that passed 97-2 that makes it a Federal crime to knowingly advertise minors for commercial sex. I believe the Investigations Subcommittee's work can inform the work of the Congress as a whole to better protect vulnerable children trafficked over the Internet.

    Backpage is a Web site that allows for the advertisement of commercial sex online. In 2013, it was estimated that $8 out of every $10 spent on online sex advertising in the U.S. goes to backpage. Moreover, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has itself determined that backpage is linked to 71 percent of all suspected child sex trafficking reports that it receives from the public through its ``CyberTipline.'' Thus, this bipartisan investigation naturally involves questions about the specifics of how backpage operates.

    As I understand it, the subcommittee's subpoena seeks documents to help explain backpage's current policies and practices. These questions involve, among other things, whether backpage edits the content of ads before they are published, whether backpage might be more helpful to law enforcement with the data it collects, and whether backpage has resources sufficient to further prevent trafficking on its site. But backpage has refused to comply with this subpoena.

    Where an investigative subcommittee is conducting a bipartisan investigation into the most horrific crimes committed against young people, it is the right thing to do for the Senate to enforce this subpoena through the legal process.

    I would like to also share about a case that arose in my State very recently. Last week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department arrested three individuals charged with abducting a 20-year-old woman and transporting her to the Bay Area to sexually exploit her. The victim was initially kidnapped in Palmdale, where she was viciously assaulted and then moved 6 hours north to Oakland, where her pictures were taken and posted to backpage.com. She was then driven back down to Orange County and had a gun pointed at her by one of her attackers. The victim was fortunately able to make some panicked calls to her mother while taken captive, and the L.A. Sheriff's office was able to find her in a motel and rescue her. The suspects were then captured and now face a litany of charges. This all occurred just weeks ago.

    The point is sex trafficking, facilitated by the Internet, continues to plague communities all over the country.

    I recently met with John Clark, the new president and CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The National Center reported that over the last 5 years, there has been an 846 percent increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking and that this increase is ``directly correlated to the increased use of the Internet to sell children for sex.'' That is sobering.

    Every day in America, vulnerable victims are advertised over the Internet and exploited by traffickers. I believe the Congress must get to the bottom of it, try to understand how it is happening, and do all that we can to stop it. So I fully support enforcement of this subpoena and urge my colleagues to do the same.

    I thank the Chair.

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