Fearing SESTA/FOSTA Will Make Sex Work More Dangerous March 27, 2018 by Jessie Sage & PJ Sage Fearing SESTA/FOSTA Will Make Sex Work More Dangerous, New SWOP Group is Organizing Local Harm Reduction Efforts.
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This past Wednesday, the Senate passed FOSTA (Fight Online Sex-Trafficking Act), which already cleared the House as SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act). The bill amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which was a provision to protect online publishers from being held liable for the posts on their site. President Trump has indicated that he intends to sign it into law. The bill is designed to make it easier for plaintiffs and state attorneys general to sue websites that “knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking.”
The bill’s supporters argue that sex trafficking is a growing problem. However, data regarding the prevalence of trafficking is limited, and often based on unreliable indicators such as the volume of calls to hotlines. Moreover, other laws passed in recent decades incentivize convicted sex workers to claim they were trafficked in order to be eligible to have their records expunged.
What SESTA/FOSTA reveals is that the anti-sex trafficking agenda is actually an anti-sex work agenda. While the title and description of the bill suggest a narrow focus on trafficking, the actual language in legislation broadly criminalizes all sites where prostitution is discussed in any way, even if sex workers chose to participate in the industry independent of a pimp or trafficker.
In fact, the law makes no distinction between sex work and sex trafficking so that it functionally equates a website operator that allows independent escorts to advertise with a pimp that kidnaps young women and violently forces them to sell sex. In anticipation of bill’s passage, several websites have already pulled their content (e.g., Craigslist personals, several sub-Reddits, and TER [The Erotic Review]).
Sex workers are concerned the closure of these websites will put them at greater risk, stripping away some of the most important resources they use to ensure their safety. Online ads enable them to find clients on screen rather than in the streets. Review sites allow for advance screening. Forums are a medium for sex workers to alert each other to possible dangers and to share advice, resources, strategy, and mutual care. Rather than eliminating the things that facilitate trafficking, SESTA/FOSTA have already begun to eliminate the things that facilitate safety.
SWOP (Sex Work Outreach Project) is a social justice network focusing on ending the violence and stigma associated with sex work through education and advocacy. The new Pittsburgh SWOP Chapter is a space for sex workers and their allies to share experiences and concerns, and to work collectively to engage policy makers on the impact of these and other policies here in Pittsburgh.
As part of the larger umbrella organization, they are going to plug into the organizing around SESTA that is already taking place. SWOP National is now in the process of writing a letter to White House Staffers in order to educate them about the impact of this bill, they are developing a half day training for SWOP Chapters to train sex workers to lobby, and they are organizing for a demonstration in Washington DC on June 2, which is International Whore’s Day.
SWOP Pittsburgh is in the process of organizing in order to participate in these national projects. But on a local level they are also organizing a Teach-In to inform interested parties about the impact of the bill and how to minimize personal risk, as well as tools to help contact representatives (which will include a letter writing and calling campaign). We invite anyone who is interested to contact us or follow us: