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U.S. Senate passes bill aimed at websites that host human trafficking ads

A bill aimed at websites that host sex trafficking ads is headed to President Donald Trump's desk.

The U.S. Senate passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act Wednesday with a vote of 97-2, sending it to the president's desk for his signature. The bill would amend the Communications Decency Act to say facilitating the act of selling humans for sex online is not protected under the First Amendment but is a violation of federal criminal code, according to the bill's summary.

The legislation was crafted in response to a report that revealed created loopholes to allow traffickers to sell human trafficking victims online.

"Websites like shouldn't be allowed to shamefully hide behind the First Amendment to promote and profit from modern day slavery," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement announcing the Senate's vote.

Bill Co-sponsor Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement the legislation will hold websites accountable for engaging in prostitution and sex trafficking.

"At the same time, the bill is narrowly crafted to protect websites that unknowingly host illegal content," Hoeven said in a statement. "Our legislation specifically targets websites and persons that have been abusing protections for online service providers in order to facilitate sex trafficking and will help bring those offenders to justice."

Trump has 10 days to sign the bill.

Heitkamp helped write the bill with Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio who introduced the legislation.

The Washington Post contributed to this story.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

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