In late February, the House passed a bill with wide bipartisan support that will make it easier for websites that aid sex trafficking to be held criminally responsible. It’s called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), and another similar bill called Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) is up for a Senate vote next Monday. On the surface, stopping online avenues to sex trafficking sounds like a great idea; so why are so many sex workers and the organizations that keep them safe up in arms against it?
Basically, these bills will make websites responsible for keeping all content — including posts and comments by users — free of anything that might be aiding sex trafficking. While some large online entities like Facebook and Google have backed the initiative, many advocates say it is the smaller websites and online organizations who don’t have the capacity to filter through all of their content who will suffer as a result of this bill.
But the main concern is that any and all content related to sex trafficking will be swept up in the ban. These bills may silence sites and conversations about sex work and sex trafficking that actually help keep women safe. For example, many sex workers use social media and other online venues to warn other workers about dangerous clients.
Social media and online venues are also how many victims of sex trafficking gain access to important resources. Sex worker advocates and anti-trafficking experts alike worry that this bill could silence the voices of those working to fight sex trafficking, ultimately protecting those who are perpetrating it.
As an article on the website Jezebel points out, the bill could also create false equivalencies between sex trafficking and consensual sex work, essentially censoring women who are not victims of sex trafficking but who have made a legitimate decision to do sex work.
These sex workers may lose access to the sites where they are able to safely advertise their services and vet clients. Remove the sites that keep women off the street and safely inside, and workers may be forced out of their homes in order to attract clients.
It is for this multitude of reasons that sex workers and advocates are taking to social media to oppose FOSTA and SESTA:
The Senate is expected to vote on SESTA by the end of next week, and many sex workers are preparing for the worst:
To tweet your support for those opposed to these bills, use the hashtag #LetUsSurvive.
(Illustration by Sarah Tate / Brit + Co)