Will new law protect women from sex-trafficking?

Published: Apr. 24, 2018 at 4:27 PM EDT

Criminals looking to find or sell sex online now have fewer places to turn. But, some experts worry sex-trafficking victims may be at greater risk than before.

Prominent websites used by sex-traffickers are shutting down, now that a new law leaves them legally-exposed. "And that's exactly what we intended," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

Portman helped steer the legislation through Congress, and watched on as President Donald Trump signed it into law.

Sex-traffickers already faced penalties, but now sites like 'Backpage' and 'CityVibe' where they advertised, are no longer immune to criminal prosecution or lawsuits from victims.

"By signing this today Mr. President, you will make a huge difference in the lives of so many, women, girls, [and] boys going forward," Portman said during the signing.

Portman said the next step in the fight against trafficking is to provide more services to help former victims get back on their feet.

About 95 percent of lawmakers on Capitol Hill voted for the new law. Despite its popularity - researchers like Kim Mehlman-Orozco said the new law creates more problems than it solves. She's served as an expert witness for prosecutors and defense attorneys, written books on the subject, and teaches at George Mason University.

"In my interviews with sex traffickers and pimps, and commercial sex consumers, they have told me unequivocally, this changes nothing," Mehlman-Orozco said.

Online or on the street, Mehlman-Orozco said shutting down sites only makes criminals harder to find. She said ads are moving to social media, password-protected sites, and pages run overseas - beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. "Which will further inhibit law enforcement's ability to find those ads, to rescue those girls and to catalyze those arrests of sex traffickers," she said.

Mehlman-Orozco said Congress should focus on funding digital law enforcement efforts, and forcing webpages to inform rat-out questionable users.

Both Portman and Mehlman-Orozco expect those in the online sex-trade to adapt. Some sites that are down - like 'USAsexguide' - are already promising to be back online in just days.