Collage by Carla Lopez/Editor

SESTA-FOSTA: Harming consensual sex workers

Framed as an anti-trafficking bill, but who’s really at stake?

By Holly Bartlow, Contributor

On March 21 President Donald Trump signed a bill into law that’s a combination of both the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. The FOSTA-SESTA bill makes websites liable for their users’ actions on their platforms. In response, many are outraged and believe the bill is a blockade to freedom of speech on the internet.

Days after the bill was signed, platforms scrambled to shut down any sex trade or advertising forums. Just recently in an official post, Tumblr took the plunge and banned any adult content, announcing that “starting Dec. 17, adult content will not be allowed on Tumblr, regardless of how old you are.”

“When sex workers are forced onto the streets to find clients, they have fewer advance safety precautions in place, no ability to effectively pre-screen clients, and no way to ensure that they work in safe, secure locations.”

SESTA-FOSTA regulations are much more than just an injustice for freedom of speech on the internet. The act has a broader and more dangerous scope: consensual sex workers’ health is at stake. Without online systems for sex work, a dangerous environment is created.

According to Vox, “Giving sex workers a way to advertise, vet, and choose clients online makes them much safer than they are without an online system.” Without an internet marketplace, all forms of sex work must take place elsewhere. According to the article, “When sex workers are forced onto the streets to find clients, they have fewer advance safety precautions in place, no ability to effectively pre-screen clients, and no way to ensure that they work in safe, secure locations.”

SESTA-FOSTA does not differentiate between consensual and non-consensual sex work. Even if the workers and content are legally protected by local law, consensual sex workers are still being affected by the passing of this bill.

Sex worker advocate Melissa Mariposa describes the risk to the Daily Dot by saying, “ [The] number one [danger] is predators will come out to play. Number two, prostitution is going to be pushed right back on the street [since sex workers] would rather take the risk freelancing. This will create more victims than it helps.”

“Trust me, sex workers want to see an end put to sex trafficking just as much as anyone else does,”

SESTA-FOSTA unknowingly empowers the pimps and illegal sex workers to exploit consensual sex workers who practice their jobs safely and legally. Making something illegal does not stop people from doing something. If consensual sex work is someone’s livelihood and passion, a bill won’t stop them despite the proposed health and safety risks.

“Trust me, sex workers want to see an end put to sex trafficking just as much as anyone else does,” said sex worker Arianna Travaglini in her blog post about consensual sex work.

The real question is why are we alienating all sex workers? Grouping consensual and non-consensual sex workers together under this bill leads to the alienation of all sex work. This includes the sex workers who are willing take part in the sale of sex; it is consensual and doesn’t affect their human rights.

When sex work is handled appropriately, it solidifies itself as a legitimate career and business.

“Instead of working with us to effectively identify and eradicate trafficking, which would require them to see us as human begins, government officials are seizing and shutting down the very online platforms that we use to making a living and keep ourselves safe,” added Travaglini.

We must battle against the stigma that all sex work is prostitution. When sex work is handled appropriately, it solidifies itself as a legitimate career and business. The industry ensures regular health screenings and a controlled set of services through the use of the internet. Without their business platform, the problem of unregulated street work will only grow, leaving sex workers’ health in decline and their safety at risk.