Today’s passage of #SESTA (the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) by the US Senate spells more danger ahead for those who work in the sex industry.
Along with #FOSTA (the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), passed by the House of Representatives on February 27, this potentially disastrous bill seeks to amend the Communications Decency Act (CDA, which protects Internet companies from prosecution for user-posted content) to exclude anything deemed to facilitate sex trafficking. The result could be a dramatic widening of the crackdown on sex work online that began with last year’s Federal shutdown of Backpage.
Sex workers and allies faced an uphill battle against SESTA/FOSTA, which most members of Congress viewed as an easy bipartisan win on a “no-brainer” issue. Sex work has been barely visible in the national debate around this legislation, which has focused almost entirely on Net neutrality and First Amendment issues. But even some tech giants such as Facebook and IBM reversed their positions on these bills, presumably to avoid appearing to condone sex trafficking. As usual, the most vulnerable people in the equation and those most directly affected have no voice in the passage of legislation that endangers while purporting to protect them.
Yet advocates for sex workers’ rights and anti-trafficking activists agree that SESTA/FOSTA will hurt everyone working in the sex trade, including trafficked individuals. As Freedom Network USA, “the largest network of anti-trafficking service providers and advocates in the United States,” said in a recent statement,
Reforming the CDA to include the threat of civil litigation could deter responsible website administrators from trying to identify and report trafficking. It is important to note that responsible website administration can make trafficking more visible — which can lead to increased identification. …When websites are shut down, the sex trade is pushed underground and sex trafficking victims are forced into even more dangerous circumstances. Street-based sex workers report significantly higher levels of victimization, including physical and sexual violence.
The ability to advertise and communicate openly online constitutes a major safety net for all sex workers. Take this away and workers are driven back to the danger of the streets and increased vulnerability to predatory clients and procurers. Under SESTA/FOSTA, Internet companies could ban sex workers sharing information about dangerous clients and other harm reduction resources. Only full decriminalization can empower sex workers to control the conditions of our labor.
The struggle continues against the attitudes embodied in this legislation: that people trading in sex–whether by choice, circumstance, or coercion–need rescue; that the consensual sale and purchase of sex by adults enables, or is the same as, human trafficking; that sex workers don’t deserve the same rights and respect as other types of workers. With both government and well-intentioned rescuers failing us yet again, it will now be up to the sex-work community to devise new best practices to keep workers as safe as possible from prosecution and violence, while they continue to work for survival.
#SESTA #FOSTA #LetUsSurvive #SurvivorsAgainstSESTA