In March, Congress passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)-Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). It was signed into law by Donald Trump on April 11th, reports VICE. Its ostensible aim was to close online entities that facilitate sex trafficking. However, sex workers argue that FOSTA-SESTA will—and already has—endanger their lives.
FOSTA-SESTA has lead to the closure of websites sex workers have used to find work, such as Backpage and Craigslist's Personals section, leaving sex workers struggling financially and reducing their ability to do background checks on prospective clients. Because one of the consequences of FOSTA-SESTA is the silencing of sex workers, we’ve collected some responses written by or featuring sex workers that break down what the new law means for them.
If you’re not very familiar with FOSTA-SESTA,Vox has an article that explains the language behind the law, how websites responded, how it affects sex workers, and how it potentially threatens freedom on the internet—and you can read these 7 pieces to understand more about what the law means for sex workers.
“Because of these bills, even mentioning sex work online puts us at risk of being accused of promoting sex trafficking. This opens up a whole host of possibilities for online risk reduction resources—such as rating systems and records for clients—being severely censored or removed altogether. Sex workers have had to adapt to abrupt (and often state-sanctioned) threats to our safety for as long as our livelihood has been criminalized. We have to be very resourceful and flexible to work in this industry. The fact remains that we are running out of safe spaces online. This particularly affects workers who are the most vulnerable to violence, such as trans women of color. When our communities are denied or unable to access resources to protect ourselves and each other the consequences are often deadly. This doesn’t have to be the reality, though. Sex work can be dangerous, but danger is not an inherent or necessary fact of this industry. Stifling legislation, regulation and criminalization are what makes it dangerous for us to merely try and survive in a capitalist world. We need avenues to find work safely.”
"I was on the J train on my way to meet up with some other sex workers in the city, when I got this very frantic phone call from a friend. 'Hey, I just tried to post up my ad on Backpage and I got this pop-up, do you know what’s going on?' And then immediately she just started sobbing on the phone."
“Few of us engage in sex work with total freedom or under total bondage. We do any kind of work not purely because we want to, but because we live in a society in which we are made to, whether it is by a pimp or a landlord or a collections agency. In spite of this crushing structural weight, we find ways to make choices, even if they are constrained and difficult, even if they are small. This bill, which is being sold as a path to justice and freedom, will only make our choices smaller.”
“I heard stories like, ‘If I get evicted, I’m just going to take my life. I can’t go back home.’ These are children and adults that were chased away from their family for their right to be themselves. That can’t fathom having to go back to their parents or be marginalized by the people in their lives…It’s already happening. The children are hitting the streets; they have no choice.”
“How autism expresses varies but many share delayed reaction times and trouble understanding non-verbal cues. Because of this, sex workers on the spectrum may be more susceptible to being taken advantage of. I often don’t process danger until hours after an incident. I can feel that something is wrong but can’t always articulate and respond appropriately in the moment. It’s important for my wellbeing and security to have a community on the internet that provides information about clubs with shady management practices and detailed descriptions of bad customers.
“As advocates extend support and awareness for unrepresented autistic people, it’s important to remember that a form of income that has given hope to the invisibly disabled is under threat. The ability to do sex work safely and independently is rapidly diminishing. If sex workers’ rights are not defended, then autistic people will suffer.”
"'On a grand scale, if this happens, where will the censorship stop?' [Melissa] Mariposa said. 'The fact that people are ready to hand over a chunk of their digital rights and freedoms because of the stigma behind sex work is frightening, to put it mildly.'”
Sex workers have also turned to social media to speak against FOSTA/SESTA.
@mistressmatisse made a really good point about how FOSTA-SESTA fits into a larger culture of exploiting workers, no matter the industry.
Top image: Flickr/Fibonacci Blue
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Anna Greer was an editorial intern spring 2018 and is a senior at the University of Tennessee, where she studies comics and human rights. When she is not engaged in feminist activism, she usually can be found wearing Doc Martens and looking at Star Wars prequel memes. Follow her @activistanna42