South Carolina proposing bill to block and filter porn

A proposed bill called the Human Trafficking Prevention Act (HTPA) would require that computers, tablets, and other various devices sold within the state of South Carolina have a built-in porn filter. In order for the filter to be removed, a $20 fee must be paid. I don’t know if the other devices would include smartphones (as that could get sticky in a hurry), and I would only assume that merchants can pay the fee for any device they sell, if they so choose.

Computer retailers and manufacturers would also have to permanently block access to sites that offer sex services or can be utilized as an avenue for human trafficking. The obvious question: if sites that are a gateway for sex services and human trafficking can be identified and blocked, why not go after the sites and shut them down? While I admittedly have zero knowledge of the law, I’ll have some thoughts on that later.

Why is this bill being proposed?

State representatives Bill Chumley and Mike Burns are highly concerned about human trafficking and want to do something about it. The exact quote from Chumley is, “The human trafficking thing has exploded. It’s gotten to be a real problem.”

According to an article written by Dave Munday earlier this year for The Post and Courier, 43 sex trafficking cases were reported in South Carolina in 2015. This is a steady increase from the 38 reported in 2014 and 32 in 2012. I don’t know how much sex trafficking is an issue in South Carolina compared to other states, but any case is one too many.

Fees from consumers who remove the filter, regardless of the reason, would go to the state Attorney General’s human trafficking task force. Obviously the thought is that blocking sites and adding porn filters will help curb sex trafficking, and the money collected from dropping the filter will help the organization tasked with handling sex trafficking.

But if the state can block human trafficking sites …

… why can’t they just go after whoever is behind those sites? If it were that simple, I’m sure the wheels would have already been put in motion to make this happen. First Amendment rights play a role in not being able to shut the sites down, but I also think it boils down to being incapable of proving these sites are directly responsible for sex trafficking (as opposed to being a third-party facilitator).

The most obvious site is Backpage. If you were to visit your local Backpage site, you will see that it resembles a more lite-version of Craigslist while also featuring an “adult” section for escorts, body rubs, strippers, and various adult jobs. There are a number of problems with this presentation.

Escort never explicitly state that they offer sex services because blatantly advertising sex in exchange for money is as illegal as it gets. Escorts only offer “companionship”. This can genuinely be as simple as a paid date, but since none of us were born yesterday, we also know this can just easily (and more likely) involve sex.

But technically, and I guess legally, we don’t actually know this for a fact. If sex isn’t advertised, we cannot make the assumption that any sexual activity between two partners is a direct result of payment. The claim can always be made that sex was merely an act between two consensual partners with no true direct link to the “companionship” that was actually paid for.

Ditto for body rubs, strippers take part in a legal occupation, and no ad for an adult job would be dumb enough to say “make money with us by physically getting men off.” By creating an template allowing free use to make advertisements, Backpage takes no true responsibility of anything illegal that happens in spite of what an ad says. So if an ad for a dancer leads to trafficking, it’s not because Backpage set up an illegal activity, rather it’s because some people who post ads are just evil.


guy watching porn
South Carolina is proposing a bill to filter porn in an effort to slow down human trafficking. While the intention is noble, imposing a code of morality by focusing on the sex and adult entertainment industries is misguided.

By blocking a site like Backpage, you are technically blocking a site that isn’t actually for human trafficking. People may post on those sites for that use, but that is no different than using Craigslist or the ads page of a local newspaper for unlawful activity. Without evidence showing direct responsibility for aiding in human trafficking, I’m not sure how one shuts down a site if the site hasn’t actually done anything illegal (which is not the same as being shady).

As for the porn filter, hopefully it doesn’t work like the filters at my college where with the correct use of a Google search or VPN you can watch porn regardless. And hopefully it won’t filter sites that actually aren’t pornographic at all, similar to Instagram taking down a photo of a cake because it loosely remembers a woman’s breast. A filter like that is both pointless and faulty.

Odds are the major and obvious porn sites would be blocked, while a few Tumblr and stealthy WordPress blogs will slip through the cracks. Which is to say the filter probably won’t do the greatest job of blocking porn on computers. But just like the old times of blank VHS tapes and magazines hidden under mattresses, people will have to work a little harder to get their fix.

Can this actually curb human trafficking?

I don’t think so, or rather I should say I doubt the bill’s effectiveness. I hold no issue with the intent of the bill as trafficking people against their will is sick and has to stop. But the mode of action the bill pushes for is misguided.

I know the internet has greatly changed and influenced the ways in which our society operates. It also speaks on human sexuality, which scares people. So I don’t doubt that the internet plays a role in human trafficking statistics increasing each year. But to think that focusing on internet use is going to be a major step toward getting traffickers to stop seems short-sighted.

To place as large of a blanket as possible shows a misunderstanding of trafficking and assumes a connection with adult entertainment and the sex industry that doesn’t truly exist. I don’t see how applying a filter is supposed to deter human trafficking. Put another way, I don’t see how watching porn has a strong and direct correlation with sex trafficking.

If you want to assume that that every trafficker, or consumer to trafficking, watches porn, then fine. That’s remarkably faulty thinking, but I’ll play this game a bit. But the assumption doesn’t come close to working the other way around: not every person that has looked at porn gets into human trafficking or has knowingly become a consumer of it. That’s essentially saying if you watch porn it’s only a matter of time before seek paid companionship.

To think that a small financial punishment for looking at pornographic material would slow down trafficking efforts is erroneous. Not to mention, and let’s be real, a fee that small in comparison to the actual cost of a device isn’t stopping anyone. Plus, people who really want to see porn will find a way around it, most likely through adult blogs and social media pages that are harder to detect.

And not to defend escorts who foray into glorified prostitution (although I have no issue with the conscious decision for someone to sell their own body), but how does one determine what’s human trafficking or escorting? While blocking sites permanently may slow down a few traffickers, it’s also shutting or slowing down individuals who are not trafficking at all (for example, webcam models). The bill looks to be aimed more so at the sex industry than trafficking as the sex industry would take the bigger hit.

That’s not a bill taking a direct charge at an illegal activity. That’s a bill imposing a sense of morality on its citizens. If the claim is that traffickers are mostly using the internet to find their victims, eliminating access to the sites that facilitate this just means traffickers will have to find another way to conduct business without actually being stopped.

The bill is intended to lower the number of sex trafficking cases in the state, which is noble. But being a bit of a pessimist, I can’t help but think it would only be a matter of time before traffickers find a way around the inconvenience. I’m all for efforts to deal with trafficking, but I don’t see these efforts leading to anything substantial.


Additional Reading:
•  The fight to shut down Backpage.com, America’s top online brothel
•  More sex trafficking reported in S.C.
•  South Carolina bill would impose $20 fee to watch internet porn

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