A new state law aimed at criminalizing on-line ads for sex trafficking of minors has been blocked by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh issued a Temporary Restraining Order in late June to prevent enactment of part of NJ’s Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act, which Gov. Chris Christie signed into law on May 6 and which was scheduled to go into effect this month. Oral arguments will begin in Newark on Aug. 9.
The law would make it a first-degree crime to knowingly publish, disseminate, or display an advertisement and any photographs promoting sex with a minor.
Jewish organizations — including the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Northern New Jersey Region of Hadassah — have been at the forefront of the effort since 2011 as members of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Coalition leaders have said they expect an increase in the incidence of underage prostitution in connection with the Super Bowl scheduled for next February in the Meadowlands.
Supporters of the law argued that it was necessary to hold websites, in particular those that host classified advertisements, responsible if they promote underage prostitution and sexual abuse of children.
On Backpage, users post free ads for numerous services; among the paid ads in its “adult services” section, however, are some clearly intended to promote the trafficking of minors.
Last December, the United States Senate passed a resolution recognizing that Backpage is used for trafficking in minors and asked that the company shut down its adult services section. Backpage has refused to do so and brought the lawsuit to block enactment of the law, claiming it is trumped by provisions of the federal Communications Decency Act as well as by the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause.
The NJ Attorney General’s office submitted a full briefing on the issue, joined by an amicus brief prepared by the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, a coalition member.
The new law holds “on-line providers like Backpage criminally accountable for knowingly publishing ads for trafficked children,” said CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick. “As a community that stands up against modern-day slavery, we know that it is imperative to show support for the state’s anti-trafficking efforts.”