EL RENO, Okla. - The Canadian County Sheriff's Internet Crimes Task Force is no stranger when it comes to human trafficking or child exploitation. And with Congress' passage of anti-sex trafficking legislation earlier this week, investigators in Canadian County say it's been a long-time coming.
"It will put websites on notice, 'Hey if you know this is going on and you’re not taking active steps to protect people,' victims can come after you," said Captain Adam Flowers, chief of investigations with the Canadian County Sheriff's Office.
Craigslist, the online classifieds company, shut down its personals pages Friday, days after the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 1865 which could hold websites responsible for criminal activity if it's signed into law. Flowers called the legislation a step in the right direction and isn't surprised by Craigslist's actions.
"Craigslist doesn’t want to get sued. They are not taking it as the approach that, hey, their personals could be responsible for sex trafficking or child exploitation," he said. "They didn’t even address (in the statement on the company's website) the fact that this is to help victims, sex trafficking victims, victims of child exploitation.”
Crimes that lie below the surface, away from the broader public's view, but ones that are present in the state. A recent Oklahoma County sex trafficking case late last year involved an 18-year-old girl, kidnapped from Texas and listed on Backpage for sex and held in an Oklahoma City hotel, according to court records.
If signed into law H.R. 1865, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, would open websites to prosecution for knowingly promoting illegal activities and allow victims to sue for damages.
While championed by victims advocates and law enforcement, internet rights advocates question the bill's breadth and limitations on speech.
The internet rights non-profit Electronic Freedom Foundation said the bill "...silences online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users..." arguing the illegal sex trade would be pushed further underground.
The bill must still be signed into law by President Trump. The White House released a statement earlier this week commending the legislation's passage to stem human trafficking in the U.S.