This bill and its predecessor, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act SESTAseek to address widespread concerns about child trafficking in the sex industry by targeting internet platforms deemed to facilitate trafficking, particularly Back. It does so by making websites legally liable for the actions of their users, and making it easier for survivors of trafficking to file civil suits against them.
Some argue that, without this protection, the internet as we know it could not have come into being. Sex workers have argued that FOSTA conflates sex work and trafficking in ways that censor, silence, and further endanger both sex workers and trafficking survivors, and some of these fears are already being realised.
There have been reports of sex workers being shadow banned and permanently suspended from Twitter and Instagram. There are indications that peer education and resource sharing online will become criminalised.
Backwhich was used by sex workers across the world to advertise their services, was seized by the USA Department of Justice in early April, Craigslist Personals was shut down in March, and FetLife has cracked down on users advertising escort services. For many sex workers, especially those who are trans and people of colourthe loss of Back has meant the swift loss of their primary or sole source of income, as well as their means of screening and thus avoiding dangerous clients.
Reports that sex workers have disappeared since the seizure of Back are a sobering reminder of this. Sex work is already criminalised and heavily policed in the USAwith sex workers fearing street sweeps and sting operations.
Additionally, there has been a longstanding tradition of criminalising everything that surrounds sex worksuch as third parties or the spaces in which legislators assume sex work occurs, rather than the exchange of sexual services for money itself. Especially in the digital age, this approach can have effects in jurisdictions where sex work is not criminalised, as Sydney-based sex workers who use Back to advertise recently experienced. Rather than reducing the prevalence of sex work, this tends to simply shift activity from one sector to anotheror force sex workers to develop new circuits of communication.
While sex workers have proved extremely adaptive and innovative in this respect, many are harmed and some even killed in the processwith the most marginalised in our communities at highest risk. Senator Heidi Heitkamp ed Walters, proclaiming victory against traffickers.
Further, this charge was issued by the state of Texas, while all the federal criminal charges pertain to money laundering, conspiracy, or violations of the Travel Act, the latter being the means by which prostitution charges have been laid, since soliciting prostitution is not currently federal crime.
This pattern persists despite the fact that trafficking is a profoundly misunderstood conceptand that research about the scope and nature of trafficking in the sex industry is notoriously exaggerated and unreliable.
Finally, this pattern denies a simple fact that somehow bears repeating — things are not other things — trafficking is by definition forced or coerced, and sex work is no more coerced than any other form of paid labour under capitalism. This framing also ignores the excruciatingly obvious: removing online platforms that facilitate sex work drives commercial sex further underground, which makes it harder to find people who have been trafficked, and inadvertently silences both sex workers and trafficking survivors.
In the words of Laura LeMoonwho is herself a sex worker and trafficking survivor:. You know why that is? Because the answer is decriminalization of sex work.
Those who conflate sex work and trafficking or simply oppose sex work on ideological grounds have long scrambled for someone to blame and, in turn, criminalise. Setting aside the harmful erasure of sex workers who are not cis womenthis construction of the pimp is a gross simplification.
I do not mean to suggest that pimps do not exist — in fact, some sex workers fear that the removal of online spaces in which to advertise will leave them dependent on pimps who seek to capitalise on their vulnerability. I do however wish to point out that this representation of the pimp as a menacing figure has been used to justify paternalistic policy that does sex workers harm, and to silence those who object.
I myself have never met a pimp as they describe it.
This appears to be an increasingly common silencing tactic. Laws that have taken this approach have always failedand they have done grave harm to sex workers in the process, inadvertently or otherwise. As historian Julia Laite explains :.
I have charted a move of prostitution further and further underground as the legal and social stigma of selling and buying sex increased over the course of the century. The result, no matter who in the sex industry was targeted by the law the prostitutes, the pimps, or the clients was the same: darker alleys, more isolated furnished rooms, more abandoned lots, and more abuse and violence.
When sex work and trafficking are conflated and pimps are targeted, sex workers may no longer be the explicitly demonised party, but they remain stigmatised as victims and as objects. Not only are sex workers assumed to be voiceless, but those who wish to save them from their perceived plight maintain a material investment in upholding their voicelessness.
As Emily Smith astutely observed, sex workers are canaries in the coal mine when it comes to free speech. Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
In the words of Laura LeMoonwho is herself a sex worker and trafficking survivor: … nobody is asking sex trafficking survivors directly about what we know from experience could help decrease trafficking.
Gotta criminalise something Those who conflate sex work and trafficking or simply oppose sex work on ideological grounds have long scrambled for someone to blame and, in turn, criminalise. As historian Julia Laite explains : I have charted a move of prostitution further and further underground as the legal and social stigma of selling and buying sex increased over the course of the century.
Save us from saviours When sex work and trafficking are conflated and pimps are targeted, sex workers may no longer be the explicitly demonised party, but they remain stigmatised as victims and as objects. Comment Name Website.
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