A bill would require retailers to install blocking filters on computers in the fight against sex trafficking

A bill would require retailers to install blocking filters on computers in the fight against sex trafficking
(Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A bill currently circulating at the State House aims to regulate retail stores by requiring them to install filters that automatically block prostitution hubs online.

The filters would also block all pornography sites and its supporters say by making access more inconvenient, the demand for human trafficking will sharply decline.

"We've normalized prostitution and it's time to take a stand that we will not see exploitation in this state," Jessica Neely, a survivor of sex trafficking, said.

Neely said in 2003 she was working as a youth leader, teaching students about purity. Three days before she was supposed to speak at a purity conference, she was raped.

"From there, I spiraled into the idea that I was going to make men pay," she said.

After being trafficked for several years, Neely entered the pornography industry until her awakening in 2013. For the last several years, she's been traveling the country garnering support for the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Act. So far, it's been introduced in more than 39 states.

"Human trafficking has evolved from the street corner to smart phones," Neely said. "I want to be a part of the solution. You cannot be pro-pornography and anti-human trafficking. That does not exist."

Connie Dawkins, the founder of US Ministries, said human trafficking is running rampant in South Carolina despite many people being unaware of the issue.

"It can be a stranger but it can also be family members or friends," she said. "It happens a lot more than people want to believe that a family member can actually traffic another family member."

Dawkins said there are particular signs you can look out for that may indicate someone is being trafficked.

"You have to engage with them and build some trust first," she said. "Often they're beaten or bruised, not willing to make eye contact and they can pass by you on the street. They're brainwashed through force and coercion so the key is to break down those barriers."

The legislation does not affect the internet as it stands. Supporters say rather, it would require anyone over the age of 18 interested in deactivating the filter to provide their driver's license information to the retailer, who would subsequently charge a fee.

"This does not change the internet as it looks today," Neely said. "All of these prostitution hubs and porn sites will still be there, we're just shifting the burden onto those who want to access these types of material."

Neely said the legislation would allow retailers to set the fee to deactivate the filter. An additional $20 fee would go to the state to offset secondary effects that are harmful, such as human trafficking.

"If we can prevent young girls from viewing this type of material, hopefully we can prevent them from seeing it or trafficking as a means to an end and keep them from being preyed upon," Neely said. "That's our goal."

Neely said South Carolina Representative Mike Burns was the first legislator in the United States to introduce the bill. She hopes the state will move forward with turning the bill into law.

"I remember when I was in trafficking rehabilitation that nobody knew they were being trafficked," she said. "When you're looking for handcuffs and ropes you're going to miss human trafficking 100 percent of the time."

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