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Court Makes No Ruling on Whether Online ‘Sex Trafficking’ Law is Constitutional

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The legal battle against FOSTA, the law passed earlier this year supposedly to curtail online “sex trafficking,” but which sex workers say has made their jobs more dangerous and some law enforcement authorities say has made tracking down actual sex traffickers more difficult,  is over. And the law won. At least for now.

The federal district court in Washington D.C. on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed in June by the online civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), together with the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, Human Rights Watch and a group of other plaintiffs.

Though the court did not make a decision on whether or not the law is constitutional, in a 29-page ruling, United States District Judge Richard Leon, who was appointed to the court in 2002 by President George W. Bush and was the judge who threw out obscenity charges against Evil Angel mid-trial, found that none of the plaintiffs had “standing” to sue the government to stop the FOSTA law’s implementation.

In other words, none of the plaintiffs, Leon ruled, can demonstrate that they have been damaged by FOSTA, or that invalidating the law would help them correct the injuries they say they have suffered as a result of the law.

The Woodhull Foundation claimed in the lawsuit that due to its mission of advocating for sexual freedom, it might be open to prosecution under FOSTA which prohibits online activity “promoting” or “facilitating” prostitution, sections of the law that Woodhull said were overly broad and vague.

But Leon ruled that FOSTA clearly targets only specific offers of prostitution services, not “the abstract topic of prostitution or sex work.” In response to Woodhull’s claim that by operating its online site it could be targeted by the law, Leon ruled that established law bans only speech that in “intended to commence or induce illegal activities.”  As a result, the judge ruled, Woodhull has no standing to challenge the FOSTA law.