By J.D. Prose

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has joined 49 other state attorneys general in asking Congress to change federal law so that state and local prosecutors can pursue charges against child sex traffickers.

In an Aug. 16 letter, the bipartisan group of attorneys general asked that Congress clarify the Communications Decency Act (CDA) to authorize state and local authorities to prosecute online companies that make money from promoting child sex trafficking.

The letter noted that attorneys general from 49 states and territories sent a similar letter in 2013 and that some court rulings have put those online companies out of reach of state and local law enforcement.

"Unfortunately, nearly four years later, this problem persists and these criminal profiteers often continue to operate with impunity," the AGs said in their letter.

Specifically, the AGs called out, an online classified ads company, for soliciting sex traffickers' ads for its website. They also noted several recent cases connected to users in California, Chicago, Georgia and Florida.

A statement from Shapiro's office said it "actively pursues" predators who seek victims via online apps and the change in the CDA would "assist these law enforcement efforts" being undertaken.

"We are requesting a simple change in the law to ensure we can protect children in our Commonwealth and throughout the country from online sex trafficking," Shapiro said. "Federal enforcement alone is not enough to stop the growth in online child sex trafficking. We need clear authority to investigate and prosecute anyone and any company that promotes these horrible crimes."

The AGs said "it is both ironic and tragic that the CDA, which was intended to protect children from indecent material on the internet, is now used as a shield by those who profit from prostitution and crimes against children."

Attorneys general from Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., joined 48 colleagues from states on the letter. Only AGs from Connecticut and Massachusetts did not sign it.

(c)2017 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)