Merkley, Sasse Unveil Urgently Needed Legislation to Crack Down on Online Sexual Exploitation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) today introduced the Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act, groundbreaking legislation that would require all online platforms that host pornography to put in place critical safeguards to protect Americans from sexual exploitation online.

The introduction follows disturbing reports of how videos and photos are uploaded to websites like Pornhub without the consent of individuals who appear in them—haunting and traumatizing victims.

“The posting of intimate photos and videos without participants’ consent is a massive invasion of privacy that drives shame, humiliation, and potentially suicide,” said Merkley. “While some online platforms have recently announced steps to change some practices, much more needs to be done. We must ensure that not another single life of a child, man, or woman is destroyed by these sites.”

“Human dignity matters. A decent society has an obligation to fight sexual exploitation and human trafficking. For years, Pornhub and its parent company Mindgeek monetized rape, abuse, and child exploitation. While these suit-wearing traffickers got rich, their victims have lived with the pain and fear. That has to end now. Our bill is aimed squarely at the monsters who profit from rape. Washington ought to be able to come together to combat human trafficking and make this right,” said Sasse.

The Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act would require platforms hosting pornography to verify the identity of users who upload videos, and require a signed consent form from every individual appearing in the video. The legislation would also prohibit video downloads, and would create a private right of action against an uploader who posts a pornographic image without the consent of an individual in the image.

Platforms would be required to create an expedited system in which victims can get videos deleted off websites. That system includes required deletion within two hours of a request and a 24-hour hotline on which individuals can make their request. Platforms would also be required to provide a notice on their website with information on how an individual can request the removal of a video, and to use software to block the re-upload of any removed videos.

The legislation would direct the Federal Trade Commission to enforce violations, and instruct the Department of Justice to create a database of individuals who have indicated that they do not consent to the posting of videos in which they appear. Platforms would then be required to check the database before new content could be uploaded, and any failure to do so would result in a civil penalty to the platform, with proceeds going toward services for victims.

Full text of the legislation is available here.