Calif. State Senator Introduces New Online ‘Sex Trafficking’ Bill

LOS ANGELES—A California state senator has introduced a bill that would make online sites liable for non-consensual sexual images and videos uploaded by users. Titled the “Ending Online Sexual Trafficking and Exploitation Act,” SB-435 sponsored by San Jose Democrat Dave Cortese (pictured above) — a former Santa Clara County supervisor who was elected to the state senate in 2020 — would allow alleged victims of non-consensual image sharing to sue sites and platforms that display the image, potentially collecting damages of $100,000 for every two hours the image remains online after a takedown notification.

The bill requires that sites must take down any such non-consensual image “upon receipt” of a takedown demand by a person seen in the image. 

California is already one of 46 states with existing laws against “revenge porn,” that is, the sharing of non-consensual nude or sexual images. Under the state’s current law, a first offense carries a maximum $1,000 find and up to six months jail time. 

Cortese’s bill appears similar to the 2018 FOSTA/SESTA law passed by the United States Congress. That legislation created an exception to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields sites from liability for user content. Under FOSTA/SESTA, sites are now legally liable if content posted by users is seen as promoting sex trafficking.

The new California bill has a similar objective. 

“Child sex trafficking is a major issue in our state, and the internet is its biggest platform,” says Cortese said in his statement announcing the bill. “SB 435 will dismantle a billion-dollar industry that is profiting off of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape.”

The bill is not aimed specifically at “child sex trafficking,” however, but at any images that can be deemed non-consensual, including those that may have been created consensually, but posted online without the consent of the person or persons appearing in the image. SB 435 does, however, double the $100,000 per two-hour damage awards in the case of images where the subject is under 18. 

“Websites are fueling and profiting off of this abuse, with content receiving billions of advertisement impressions each day,” Cortese told KRON TV News. “That is what this bill is getting after.”

Cortese’s announcement also said the bill was created at least in part in response to a December 4, 2020, New York Times article which claimed to detail instances of underage sex trafficking victims as well as victims of sexual assault appearing in videos on Pornhub. The site since has implemented numerous new safety and security policies, while also removing unverified content.

"We hear stories every day from survivors--children and adults--who have tried every legal option available to them to stop the online circulation of their sexual assault or rape," California Women’s Law Center Director Betsy Butler told KTVU TV. "Still, their photographs continue to circulate while websites rake in profit from monetizing their abuse."

The full text of SB-435 may be accessed at this link.

Photo By Senator Dave Cortese FaceBook Page