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Koster among leaders trying to change laws on child sex trafficking

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 24, 2013: Missouri Attorney General Koster was the lead-off signature on a bipartisan letter sent today by most of the nation’s state attorneys general that calls on Congress “to amend the law to help fight prostitution and child sex trafficking.”

Sent to top legislative leaders, the letter advocates that Congress “amend the Communications Decency Act to provide criminal jurisdiction to state and local prosecutors.”

At issue, wrote Koster and others, was the fact that the act was drafted in the mid-1990s before the internet became such a dominant force.

“The original purpose of the act was to protect children from accessing indecent material online,” Koster’s staff said in a statement, “but courts have interpreted certain provisions of the act to provide immunity from state prosecution to online classified ad sites, such as Backpage.com, that promote and profit from human trafficking.”

“To keep up with changing technology, federal law needs to be modernized to provide local prosecutors the tools to strike back against those who promote sexual exploitation,” Koster said. “As a former prosecutor, I am familiar with the sad fact that many of those engaged in prostitution are underage and abused.

“Local prosecutors report that prostitution solicitations have largely moved online,” he continued. “Backpage.com, for example, generates an estimated $3 million to $4 million per month in revenue.”

Koster was among three lead sponsors of the request; the others are fellow attorneys general from South Dakota and Washington state. The letter was signed by 47 state attorneys general, including Koster, plus two other attorneys general representing U.S. territories.

“Prostitution is a local crime,” Koster said in a statement. “Absent interstate travel, federal property, or the involvement of a minor, prostitution is not a federal crime. While the Communications Decency Act provides criminal authority to the federal government, the attorneys general believe that criminal jurisdiction needs to be extended to help combat these crime.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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