SESTA/FOSTA legislation in the US has negatively impacted sex workers who rely on online platforms for safety and income. The legislation has also put victims at risk and threatens the free and open internet.
- SESTA/FOSTA has eliminated the exemption for online businesses from being responsible for what their users post, making websites liable for content related to soliciting prostitution
- Online platforms have been crucial for harm reduction and safety measures for sex workers
- SESTA/FOSTA puts victims at risk by delaying their identification and recovery by eliminating a digital paper trail
- Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a vital protection for a free internet
- Subverting SESTA/FOSTA will create greater economic disparity between sex workers and ultimately empower pimps and agencies over independent providers
Queenie bonbon, an independent sex worker, woke up to find her entire source of income eradicated due to the passing of SESTA/FOSTA legislation. Online platforms have allowed her to screen clients and represent herself and her services in a way that she wishes to be seen, without relying on someone else's advertising. The legislation has not protected workers from exploitation and has instead led to people trying to exploit the situation further.
Surveillance had been a fact of life for sex workers wherever they have faced prohibition. Only two elements, communication and association, can differentiate between commercial and personal sex, criminal enforcement of prostitution laws have necessarily meant targeting the speech and affiliation of perceived sex workers. Enforcement of this nature is facilitated by profiling, institutional bias, and broad overreaching policies that fundamentally violate individual human rights. This has included condoms as evidence, non-consensual medical screenings, and targeted harassment of black transgender women as well as license plate recording projects and stings that focus disrupting immigration or migrant workers. For all of its risks, screening potential clients is safer over email than it is in person during a street based negotiation often in an isolated part of town. SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) comes at a time when compelling research demonstrates that Craigslist resulted in a 17% drop in the female homicide rate. SESTA will also put victims at risk by delaying their identification and recovery by eliminating a digital paper trail. Additionally, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a vital protection for a free internet. Subverting SESTA will create greater economic disparity between sex workers and ultimately empower pimps and agencies over independent providers.