Prevent Online Sexual Exploitation of Children


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July 12, 2023
Shirley A. Holly, NJSFWC President

Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to revise the legal framework used in the prevention and prosecution of online sexual abuse of children. Online platforms have fueled the extreme and unprecedented proliferation of child sexual abuse material. Law enforcement has repeatedly warned that children are groomed, enticed, exploited, trafficked, and abused online through platforms we use every day. There are tens of millions of photos and videos circulating throughout the internet, showing the most heinous acts of sexual abuse and torture of children. This has gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2023 (EARN IT Act, S. 1207, H.R. 2732) removes immunity for social media and technology companies that knowingly facilitate the distribution of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) on their platforms. The bill updates existing federal statues to use the term “child sexual abuse material” instead of “child pornography.” The term child pornography fails to describe the true nature of the images and undermines the seriousness of the abuse. Pornography implies consent, and children under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to the creation or sharing of sexually explicit images of themselves. So, these images are, by definition, evidence of a crime.

Currently, the technology industry maintains a liability protection shield for third-party content. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 contains Section 230 that offers near-total immunity to technology companies. As a result, victims have no way to force tech companies to remove content posted on their sites. This bill removes the immunity specifically regarding child sexual exploitation, by allowing for state civil and criminal lawsuits, as well as federal civil lawsuits, if companies advertise, promote, distribute, or solicit child sexual abuse material.
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