Washington, D.C. – In today’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) advocated to allow state and local law enforcement to shut down websites used by human traffickers. Federal criminal prosecutors are already authorized to do this, but acting alone, they have been unable to prevent the rapid growth of the online sex trade.
Cortez Masto spoke with stakeholders, including Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) and Yvonne Ambrose, the mother of a young woman murdered by traffickers, about the need to empower state and local law enforcement to combat sex trafficking more effectively.
“Thank you for this conversation today. I’m trying to really understand where we can come to agreement on this legislation, because I think it is so important that we pass it. Under current law, federal law enforcement has the authority to go in and shut down a website for sex trafficking. So that’s what federal officials have—the ability to criminally prosecute. So what we’re doing right now, because the sex trafficking of our kids and adults is so prevalent—we are looking to empower state and local law enforcement to also pursue and shut down these sites when sex trafficking is occurring?” asked Cortez Masto.
Attorney General Becerra replied, “Yes, I’m looking for the ability to do what federal prosecutors can do, which courts are denying me right now. I believe under the statute I should have the authority, but it’s been construed differently.”
Cortez Masto continued, “So the only thing we’re doing is opening the door to allow the state law enforcement and local law enforcement to do the same thing that the federal law enforcement is able to do, which is to shut down those sex trafficking sites. I signed onto a letter in 2013 as Attorney General to ask the federal government to grant this power to state and local law enforcement. And I continue to support legislation that would do that.
“There is so much sex trafficking going on, this is a crime that is so prevalent, and thank you to Ms. Ambrose for being a voice. Because it is not an easy thing for you to get up here and tell your daughter’s story. Your story is one that I have heard too many times in my state as Attorney General. And this is an issue that we have to stop. We have to stop it. It is not just for federal law enforcement, it is for all law enforcement, state and local, and that’s all we’re asking—is for state and local law enforcement to have the same abilities as federal law enforcement because this crime is so prevalent.”
Sen. Cortez Masto co-sponsored two anti-trafficking bills that recently passed in the Senate: the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017. If signed into law, these bills would give law enforcement additional tools, training, and resources to target organized human trafficking. Cortez Masto is also the co-sponsor of legislation, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2017, to wipe the criminal records of survivors who were forced to commit crimes while enslaved.
A full video of her questioning is available here.