Protect sex workers, respect voluntary sex work

by Sam Bam

Social media has replaced the diary, the bulletin board, the alt weeklies. It has given us the ability to broadcast to the world. We’ve all heard the warnings about sharing too much, but not many discuss what happens when the government chooses to censor you, to erase your online existence. 

Currently the government is censoring sex workers on the internet. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) were passed nearly unanimously last year, despite First Amendment concerns. The bills claim to be an attempt to fight sex trafficking by limiting advertising opportunities for sex workers and further criminalizes safety protocols used by many workers. The bills ignore research and policies or respected worldwide organizations such as Amnesty International and refuse to recognize a difference between sex work (voluntary) and human trafficking (coerced). What these bills do accomplish is setting legal precedent for extreme censorship of the free press. What these bill do not do is help trafficking victims. 

SESTA/FOSTA has forever changed the internet. Today it’s sex workers and their ability to advertise and communicate between each other for professional and safety purposes – and also Tumblr artists (porn ban was a result of SESTA/FOSTA), Skype users (nudity and discussing sexual acts are no longer allowed), Facebook users (the mere mention of homosexuality has gotten users banned recently), credit card users (although legal to place an advertisement for yourself, many advertising sites are no longer accepting credit card payments, which means many people aren’t able to get new clients), journalists reporting on the subject of sex work having their work taken down, and countless other online communities. 

Mass government censorship is here and it’s time to fight back. Not just for sex workers, but for your own right to freely communicate with the world. 

We live in a world where money talks, so the fact that none of these billion dollar corporations are fighting these laws should be worrisome. The reason why is because these laws change Section 230 of The Communications Act, now allowing the government, state by state, to sue any internet service provider (ISP) or platform that is accused of users using their services for human trafficking, to sue the ISPs themselves in civil court (no criminal charges, burden of proof is on the plaintiff). 

If you don’t obey these laws you risk 50 lawsuits brought against you by an entity with unlimited funds and power. SESTA/FOSTA sets legal precedent that WILL be used to punish dissenters of subjects outside of the sex industry in the coming years. It has already been used to punish marginalized communities outside the scope of sex work and that should terrify all of us. 

I have purposely avoided discussing the merits of sex work. I have grown accustomed to society thinking less of me because of my chosen profession, and long ago realized that the only way to get people advocating for sex workers is to remind them what is happening to us will happen to them in the future. My community accepted our fate as the canary in the coal mine the day SESTA/FOSTA was passed. Friends of mine are dead due to the restrictions SESTA/FOSTA placed on them. There’s a body count that will continue to grow, due to mental anguish and/or the inability to pay bills, until we actively decide to ban together. 

Today it’s my community. Tomorrow it will be yours. 

Ways to help: 

Stop conflating sex work with sex trafficking. This hurts victims. 

Call your senators and representatives and voice your dissent. Call your local politicians. Literally tell everyone you can. These laws were passed with little review or press for a reason. 

Reach out to sex worker organizations such as SWOP-USA and ask how you can help. Or go to sex worker events, ESPECIALLY if you are not a worker (your presence will lessen the likelihood of a worker being outed) 

Brush up on sex worker history (did you know Stonewall was started by two black trans sex workers?). It will help humanize us. 

Educate yourself on the differences between sex work and sex trafficking by reading sex worker authored sources. We hate all forms of human trafficking and have good ideas on how to fight it. 

Listen to sex workers. D

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