This Senate Bill Would Finally Make The Porn Industry Fight Human Trafficking


Published October 7, 2022

The Federalist

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, recently introduced the Preventing Rampant Online Technological Exploitation and Criminal Trafficking Act of 2022 (PROTECT Act) to bring much-needed and long-overdue regulation to the porn industry, which is currently rampant with abuses.

The PROTECT Act requires porn websites to verify the age, consent, and identity of all individuals appearing on their platforms, filling an urgent and essential regulatory gap.

Online pornography is one of the most lucrative and fastest growing industries in the world today, yet at the same time it is one of the most immune from regulation. This has made an already dangerous industry ripe for further exploitation. The lack of regulation has resulted in pornography websites hosting a large amount of material that is the product of sex trafficking and child exploitation.

The last few years especially have seen a rapid increase in the amount of child pornography (known as child sexual abuse material or CSAM), with social media only further exacerbating its distribution. Without any legal requirement for websites to verify the age or consent of individuals depicted in porn, human traffickers are able to easily exploit children and other victims and upload that exploitation for profit. And every time that exploitation is viewed, that child is revictimized again and again. 

And for their part, porn sites are making no effort to combat this exploitation. It is a massive criminal problem.

The pornographic film industry is worth up to $97 billion in some estimates. And the internet has only further accelerated this industry’s growth, making porn incomparably more available, accessible, affordable, and anonymous than at any other time in U.S. history. There are no substantive laws on the books that govern the most important issue at stake in pornography: consent. Enter the PROTECT Act.

Sen. Lee’s Bill

The bill would hold online creators and distributors of pornography accountable for requiring consent and verifying the ages of all individuals appearing on their sites, and thereby block traffickers and other bad actors from uploading and monetizing nonconsensual (i.e. abusive and exploitative) content on these platforms. The bill accomplishes this in three ways. 

First, it would require websites to verify the age and identity of individuals who are uploading pornographic images. Failure to comply with this provision would result in a $10,000 civil penalty. This will help prevent minors from being able to upload content to porn sites, and thereby reduce revenge porn among minors and in general keep more minors out of pornography and off these sites.

Second, it would require pornography sites to obtain signed consent forms verifying the age and identity of any individual appearing in uploaded content. Any image or video uploaded without the consent of the individual in it would have to be removed from the platform within 72 hours or else the website would have to pay a penalty of up to $10,000 a day per image.

Finally, it would criminalize the nonconsensual upload of pornographic images (more commonly known as revenge pornography). Victims of revenge porn could request that any nonconsensual images of them be removed from the platform, and if they are not removed within 72 hours, the website would be subject to a criminal penalty and the individual could seek damages against the site.

Other strengths of the bill include the clear prescriptions for the means websites must use to verify age and identity. It requires that sites obtain explicit written evidence of consent for each sex act in any pornographic image and that the required consent form be created or approved by the attorney general of the United States, and the bill details all the information that the consent form must contain at a minimum. 

Putting the Burden on Websites and Businesses

The combined effect of the bill’s provisions would put the onus for preventing CSAM and other exploitative or revenge porn back on the pornography websites and businesses, where it belongs, rather than tasking law enforcement with policing it all. While law enforcement has made great efforts in tracking down and prosecuting individuals who distribute CSAM, departments are often overburdened and under-resourced to tackle the sheer volume out there. For example, the FBI has prioritized investigating CSAM images depicting infants and toddlers, leaving countless older children, not to mention trafficked adults, without adequate protection and justice.

Furthermore, by creating such a high regulatory bar of holding porn companies responsible for verifying all depicted individuals’ consent and ages, the bill will make it more burdensome for pornographic content to be uploaded online in general. By strategically targeting the supply side of the pornography industry to clean up their websites, the end result will hopefully be a reduction in the overall amount of pornography circulating online — at the very least it will certainly decrease the amount of child pornography. This bill will thus protect children both from being exploited and from being exposed to such grotesque pornographic exploitation online and suffering its detrimental effects.

Enough is enough. Porn companies should not be able to profit from the sexual exploitation of children and other victims for one more day. It is high time for porn companies to engage in the fight against human trafficking. This bill will require them to. Congress should act swiftly to pass it.

Clare Morell is a Policy Analyst at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where she works on EPPC’s Technology and Human Flourishing Project. Prior to joining EPPC, Ms. Morell worked in both the White House Counsel’s Office and the Department of Justice, as well as in the private and non-profit sectors.

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash


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