The SAVE Act Is Back: Here’s What You Need to Know

In recent years, perhaps no single piece of federal legislation has garnered more of AAN’s attention than the SAVE Act (that stands for “Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act”). AAN Executive Director Tiffany Shackelford and I spent considerable time in 2014 pushing back against House and Senate proposals to impose criminal penalties on those who knowingly or recklessly accept advertisements tied to sexual trafficking. The Senate bill posed a particular concern because it would also create onerous recordkeeping and notice requirements which carried significant, likely crippling, criminal penalties (including hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, possible jail time and eligibility for forfeiture proceedings).

While the House passed its version, the Senate bill did not. But we knew that wouldn’t be the end of the story – and it’s not.

It did not take long for Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) to reintroduce the House version of the SAVE Act as HR 285. Her bill is identical to the one she introduced last year which amends the existing law relating to commercial sex trafficking. The existing statute, found at 18 USC 1591 prohibits: (1) using force or threats of force to coerce another into engaging in a commercial sex act or (2) using any means to cause anyone under 18 to engage in a commercial sex act. It applies to anyone who: (1) knowingly “recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, obtains or maintains” a person for the purpose of participating in one of those two act while (2) knowing or having reckless disregard of the fact that the person engaging in the act has been forced to do so or is under 18.

HR 285 (like last year’s House bill) adds the word “advertises” to the list of prohibited acts. So an AAN member would be criminally liable if that member (1) knowingly takes an advertisement for a sexual act (2) where a participant is forced or threatened with force to participate, or is under age of 18, and (3) has knowledge or shows reckless disregard for the possibility that the person is forced to participate, is threatened with force to participate, or is under 18. Of course, it is very unlikely that an AAN member would knowingly take an advertisement in such a situation, but prosecutors around the country would readily argue, if it suited their needs, that there is sufficient evidence that you should have known that a particular advertiser was engaged in a violation of 18 USC 1591 and you did nothing to investigate. It now puts AAN members squarely in the crosshairs of prosecution – unless you want to stop taking any adult advertisements whatsoever.

We also expect that Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will reintroduce their version of the SAVE Act which carries additional recordkeeping and notice obligations when accepting “adult advertisements.” I wrote a long summary of this bill last year and also provided a shorter set of talking points explaining the problems with S 2536 – and that was just a small part of what we have made available to you and to members of Congress: we also circulated a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee outlining these concerns and joined several other free expression groups on a letter circulated to the entire Senate in November.

With the re-introduction of the House bill and the expected reintroduction of the Senate bill, we are already marshaling our efforts for another fight. We are asking you now to begin thinking about this issue and helping us defeat the SAVE Act. AAN will once again be working with a broad cross section of organizations not only from the publishing and journalism world but also free expression and privacy organizations, trade associations, and internet companies. Twenty groups have joined together in a letter sent to Congress today which outlines why the SAVE Act is a threat to business interests, the infrastructure of the internet, and free speech generally.

Please consider adding your voice to this effort: Report on or editorialize about the SAVE Act. Contact your Senator and/or Representative. Protect free speech.

Though some of these are linked to above, here is everything we’ve already provided on the SAVE Act over the past year, up to and including the recent letter from a broad coalition of industries.

You can also contact AAN Legal Counsel Kevin M. Goldberg at 703-812-0462 or goldberg[at] if you have questions – and if you do write about this, please send Kevin and Tiffany a copy for use in their Congressional efforts.