Why Do Sex Workers Oppose SESTA?

Numerous celebrities spoke out in favor of it. Almost every senator voted yes. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) of 2017 sounds like a slam dunk — sex trafficking is a horrific exploitative crime, and we should be using any means necessary to put a stop to it. But several groups of people aren’t thrilled that SESTA passed and is on its way to the White House.

Civil rights activists,as well assex workers and some anti-trafficking groups have expressed concernsthat this bill will make iteasier,not harder, to engage in sex trafficking.

In a nutshell, SESTA would permitstates to hold websites responsible for content posted by their users if it may contribute to sex trafficking. Sites like Craigslist, Backpage and many others have longhostedsexually explicit advertising — including a mixture of services provided by and for freely consenting adults and content that may involve trafficking and other nonconsensual sexual services.

The idea is that a state could crack down on a site that postsan adforsex services, including services of people who have been trafficked.

Free speech advocates argue that the bill is too broad, and could potentially give rise to conflicts. The definition of whether a site “knowingly” promotes sex trafficking and what kind of content could be targeted may be vague enough to open the door to suppressing a variety of speech — or entire websites. Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation note the fact that these sites are already liable;the law does not protect them from federal prosecution for crimes like sex trafficking.

But sex workers have a number of concerns about the law that they feel have been drowned out — perhaps in part because of the false conflation of sex work as a whole with sex trafficking. They say the ability to post online, vet potential customers and communicate with fellow sex workers keeps them safer. Isolatingsex workersby making itdifficult to find a place to advertise can expose them to increased risks of sexual assault and harassment.

Notably, sex workers aren’t just advertising online. They’re also connecting with their peers and sharing important information and resources that keep them safer — from advice on STI testing to “bad dates” lists to warn each other. Additionally, for those interested in leaving the industry,sex worker networks can be extremely valuable,includingthose that support victims of trafficking and other abuses within the industry.

Sex workersargue that the rush to implement content filters in the wake of the law may create a situation where people who are trafficked have trouble finding resources, telling their stories and connecting with fellow victims. Moreover, anti-trafficking groups say, such sites provide an easily located digital footprint that’s being used by law enforcement right now to identify and assist victims of trafficking. Driving advertising underground won’t stop this terrible practice, but it may make it harder for law enforcement to identify and act upon trafficking.

Sex workers believe criminalization makes their work more dangerous: They can’t advertise openly, seek assistance when they’re abused, or be frank about what they do for a living. They argue, decriminalization is an important part of the solution to trafficking. Making it possible for people to openly provide sexual services with full transparency will make it much easier to identify bad actors, and will reduce the incentive to exploit people for the sex trade. If you can hire a sex worker like any other service professional, why go to someone who may be trafficked or exploited?

The battle over SESTA highlights the fact that people in marginalized communities — like sex workers, especially women of color and trans women — are often left unheard in debate about legislation that will directly affect them and their lives. Sex workers repeatedly pleaded with the legislature and the bill’s prominent supporters to reconsider. While SESTA will likely pass into law, it’s a reminder than when you encounter proposals for legislative activities, it’s important to get several sides of the story — even if legislation seems like an obvious “yes” or “no.”

In the meantime, sex workers continue to work against trafficking, and hope to see legislation and policy changes that will allow communities to implement meaningful changes to the way we deal with this heinous crime.

Photo credit: GGAADD

48 comments

Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

thanks for sharing

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One Heart i
One Heart inc11 months ago

Thanks!!

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Karen H
Karen H11 months ago

Rita Odessa is so right. Those who would be affected by the law should be involved in the process. Look at how many laws have been passed about women's healthcare without one woman on any of the committees.

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Leanne K
Leanne K11 months ago

Karen Swenson I agree with the inclusion of male sex workers but disagree with your statistics and the client base. Most male prostitutes service male clients, not female. Not a big deal legally but if we are talking realistically, lets be realistic

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Leanne K
Leanne K11 months ago

Its difficult to create laws that benefit all sides. Often you fix one thing and it highlights another.
Prostitution is legal in most if not all states in Australia. I think that is sensible and right. But laws have stipulations. You have to be 18 and there is not to be drugs on the premises and safe sex must be practiced and workers must have medical clearance. You cannot give consent if you are semi conscious because of drugs or under 18 is the thinking underpinning these laws. It seems to work well... except if you are a seventeen year old addict. You cannot work in a safe environment, you have to work the street ( we also have tolerance zones where street workers may work) or advertise discreetly or work in an illegal parlour. Sad but true.

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Karen S
Karen Swenson11 months ago

Nearly 1/2 of all prostitutes in the UK are Male and elsewhere. A Government that doesn't include male escorts for a growing number of female clients in their National statistics, is at best ignorant to the modern incarnation of the sex industry; at worst woefully out of touch and therefore flagrantly ill-equipped to deal with the dangers those in the sex industry face each and every day. Recognition of this large group of workers of the male prostitute on the streets is the very first step in providing appropriate regulations and support. I take umbrage with people insisting prostitution as being a profession-- A profession has an educational background and is not in any way a violently forced situation where many are chained to a bed, or severely drug addicted individuals with ages ranging from tiny Babies to 60 or more yrs old! I don't know of any "profession" with those qualifications!

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Rita Odessa
Rita Delfing12 months ago

I think they need to include the experts in making any laws, and in this case it isn't people not in the trade. How can you evaluate and create something without them? Why they want a new law/act is understood but consider the time, money and purpose it needs to be done properly.

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Winn A
Winn Adams12 months ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winn Adams12 months ago

Petition Signed

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