New bill aims to support victims of online sexual exploitation

State lawmakers will soon be considering new legislation aimed at ending online sexual exploitation and trafficking in the digital age.  

South Bay Senator Dave Cortese (D- San Jose) introduced the bill Tuesday morning and said it seeks to prevent websites from profiting from sexual exploitation. Under SB-435, a person could sue for damages against any person or entity that makes or distributes their sexual content on a platform when they did not give consent.  

"Let’s be clear, even if an original video or photo is taken consensually, to improperly share that content without a person’s consent is also a form of abuse and sexual assault," Cortese said in a press conference. "That's what this bill is getting after." 

Cortese said the bill seeks to dismantle websites--like some pornography sites--that profit off sexual exploitation. He pointed to a New York Times report on victims of child sex abuse who were monetized or exploited through Pornhub, which attracts more visits per month than Netflix, yahoo, or Amazon.

"We hear stories every day from survivors--children and adults--who have tried every legal option available to them to stop the online circulation of their sexual assault or rape," said Betsy Butler, a former assemblywoman and executive director of the California Women’s Law Center. "Still, their photographs continue to circulate while websites rake in profit from monetizing their abuse." 

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If passed by the legislature, the "ending sexual exploitation act" will award damages to victims. An offender will have to pay $100,000 for every two hours of online exposure of illegal content after being notified to take it down. It would also allow victims to sue for content circulation, if applicable. 

The amount the offender must pay is doubled if the victim is under 18 years old. 

"By doing this, we create a powerful deterrent and incentive to get these photos and videos out of circulation as fast as possible," Cortese said. 

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.