WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today praised the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for securing the first guilty plea under Portman’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). SESTA is bipartisan legislation enacted in 2018 as part of a broader congressional effort to help stop online sex trafficking and provide justice for victims. CityXGuide owner Wilhan Martono, pleaded guilty to one count of promotion of prostitution and reckless disregard of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to engage in interstate transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises – facilitating prostitution. Portman is encouraging survivors of CityXGuide advertisements, who are afforded rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and may be eligible for restitution, to visit this DOJ website to submit their information. Portman issued the following statement:
“Sex traffickers who sell women and children online must be held accountable for their actions, and I encourage any and all CityXGuide survivors to submit their information to the DOJ since they may be eligible for compensation for the damage caused by CityXGuide. I applaud the Justice Department for their tireless work prosecuting CityXGuide and I’m pleased that my SESTA law made this indictment possible by clarifying that it is illegal to knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. The law also ensures that sex trafficking victims can seek justice through civil suits and that states may prosecute websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws. I will continue to work to ensure that no more women or children become victims of this terrible crime.”
NOTE: A two-year Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) inquiry, led by Portman and former Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), culminated in a report entitled “Backpage.com’s Knowing Facilitation of Online Sex Trafficking,” which found that Backpage knowingly facilitated criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and children and then covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits.
The investigation led to the SESTA law, which is supported by trafficking survivors, anti-human trafficking advocates and law enforcement, 50 Attorneys General, the civil rights community, faith-based groups, the larger tech community, and courts and judges who have applauded Congress’s action to protect sex trafficking victims. SESTA made two important changes: (1) it allows sex trafficking victims to get the justice they deserve by removing the law’s unintended liability protections specifically for websites that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking; and (2) it allows state and local law enforcement to prosecute websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws.