COYOTE RI: An open letter to Senator Whitehouse on upcoming EARN IT Act vote – Uprise RI

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COYOTE RI: An open letter to Senator Whitehouse on upcoming EARN IT Act vote

Your office was not willing to review any of the evidence based research regarding how these types of uninformed and ultimately harmful laws fuel sex trafficking. When sex workers can’t report violence and predatory police officers those bad actors continue to abuse women.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse:

We are writing to you today in opposition to Senate Bill 3398 the EARN IT Act  Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies(The EARN IT ACT). We urge you not to support or co-sponsor the EARN IT Act, which the Judiciary Committee is voting on next Thursday, July 2nd, 2020. This bill would compromise the security of people around the world especially marginalized low-income women, such as sex workers, women of color, transgender women, LGBTQ, undocumented women, and young people. The passage of FOSTA/SESTA in 2018 was a grave mistake that destroyed the lives of many and instead of making it right, the same actors are trying to make it worse. Please do not let this happen again.

Within two weeks of FOSTA’s passage into law, COYOTE RI conducted a survey that reached 262 United States sex workers. The data revealed that violence and exploitation increased while screening and safety decreased. Some sex workers became homeless and were forced into the streets. See our impact report here

Recently FOSTA/SESTA was used for the first time since it was passed 2 years ago. From The New Republic:

“With the prosecution announced last week in Texas, Sesta/Fosta has at last been used against the kind of website envisioned by Congress when it passed nearly unanimously in the Senate and with a wide majority in the House. It only took them two years. One of Sesta/Fosta’s architects, Senator Robert Portman (Republican, Ohio), put a press release about the CityXguide raid, echoing the allegations that a trafficker had been put behind bars. “Sex traffickers who sell women and children online must be held accountable for their actions,” Portman stated, “and I applaud today’s action by the Justice Department against CityXGuide.”
“As has been the case all along in the war on human trafficking, and only more so under the current administration, a press release announcing victory with the passage of a new law or the unsealing of a criminal indictment will garner far more attention than how the law is used in court. What matters, seemingly over even doing right by people who are trafficked, is the optics. And since the consequences of these laws and crackdowns mostly harm sex workers, the damage is still largely overlooked by legislators and, certainly, by law enforcement.
“It was also two years ago this month that sex worker rights advocates and allied human rights organizations took the government to court over the law that the Justice Department has finally seen fit to use. Their constitutional challenge to Sesta/Fosta drags on still. Meanwhile, one of the organizations that brought the suit, Sex Workers’ Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars, has been made the subject of an FBI “Situational Information Report,” after a woman was arrested on prostitution charges in 2019 and agents searching her phone found an email from the group. The report from the FBI’s Jacksonville division (and obtained by The New Republic), titled “Listserv Email Containing Screening Tips and Warning about Operation Cross Country for Sex Workers, as of July 2019,” goes on to quote the email alerting sex workers to the possible law enforcement operation. The email also referenced a safety planning sheet, as SWOP Behind Bars described it, “just in case you find yourself trapped in a sting.”
“The FBI report goes on to quote SWOP Behind Bars’ other safety tips, like, “If you have a local bad date list, read it before heading out! Even if you don’t remember everything, something might make you double-check before you head out with someone.” A “bad date list” is something sex workers have created themselves, in part because law enforcement does not take violence against sex workers seriously. Here, it receives their attention, but only insofar as it is perceived as a sign of criminal activity. (The New Republic asked the Jacksonville FBI division office to authenticate the document, but it did not respond by the time of publication.)”

Sex workers had feared that such lawful harm-reduction work could be criminalized, if not under Sesta/Fosta specifically, then as a result of the environment the law produced—one in which any online communications platform could be painted as “facilitating prostitution” if it was a venue for sex workers to talk about how to stay safe at work.