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The sinister effects of SESTA

About the author: Allison Leigh is a pornographer, producer, polyamorist, and professional kinkster. When sexuality is business, business is fun! 

If you’re at all concerned about US politics or internet freedoms, you’re likely to be aware of SESTA-FOSTA. The controversial sex trafficking bill was passed by the Senate with a startling 97–2 roll call vote on March 21st, and signed into law on April 11th. SESTA-FOSTA is aimed at curbing human trafficking by removing CDA Section 230 harbors for websites that host potential sex traffickers, but its effects have already reached far further. Sex workers and internet freedom advocates are outspokenly protesting the bill, saying that it not only censors online speech, but puts consensual sex workers in real danger. 

Removing the protections of the Communications Decency Act means that websites are held legally culpable for activity they host – which upon initial reading, might sound like a good thing. However, the implications are more far-reaching than the stated intent of the bill, essentially removing the ability for sex workers to screen clientele, post advertising, and discuss their work, including sharing resources like “bad date lists” and mental health support. 

The moment SESTA-FOSTA left the US Senate, its dramatic reach began to emerge. Under the new laws, any discussion of sex work might now be considered discussion of sexual trafficking - and websites that host those conversations are shutting down left and right to avoid prosecution. Even before it was signed into law, many sites shuttered these conversations. Within 24 hours, Reddit closed their “escorts,” “male escorts,” “hookers,” and “sugar daddy” forums. Craigslist removed their personals section entirely – a move that is statistically significant, as the website’s presence has been proven to increase the safety of sex workers, reducing related homicides by 17 percent.

As the wave of changes continues, dozens of sites have closed entirely, and plenty of mainstream providers have reinforced the anti-sexuality sentiment in their terms of service, and stepped up their enforcement. Sex workers on Twitter have reported having their Google Drives wiped of content. Private Skype calls and Instagram DM’s are now subject to censorship of sexual content, and Instagram has been closing accounts. Porn sites are shuttering their comments sections and membership profiles to avoid potential violations. 

Until the government begins to enforce these laws and we can learn more about how they will be applied, their effects are unknown and potentially vast, as basically any form of communication can be used to “promote or facilitate” sex trafficking. The practical effect is that sexual speech on the internet is now subject to scrutiny, or being prevented altogether by cautious websites wishing to avoid a lawsuit. 

Despite its impact on the lives of consensual sex workers, and the erosion of online free speech, SESTA-FOSTA actually does little to accomplish its goal of fighting human trafficking. Recently closed website BackPage, charged with facilitating prostitution and money laundering, was a commonly used medium for finding traffickers and trafficking victims; its loss will take their business further underground and make trafficking harder to fight, putting more people in danger. This is what sex workers are most worried about - that they are being driven further into the dark, away from the resources that protect them.

Sex workers are responding to the new laws by fleeing social media in droves. Some have started their own networking websites based in other countries, in the hope of avoiding law enforcement and continuing to screen their clientele safely; sites like “Switter" – sex worker twitter - are cropping up across the web, though there are no protections offered by such changes. Organizations like Sex Workers Outreach Project, Free Speech Coalition, and the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee are offering support, and Twitter accounts like @pornlaw, run by lawyer Michael Fattorosi, are reaching out with advice and workshops on moving forward safely under the new restrictions.

At first read, SESTA-FOSTA sounds like an altruistic bill aimed at catching the bad guys and holding websites liable instead of allowing them to evade what seems like their responsibility. It was endorsed by celebrities who told sob stories about how these websites were havens for traffickers, and how shutting them down would save lives. In reality, it is a nightmarishly nonspecific web of potential implications for free speech, sexuality, and the safety of consensual sex workers and trafficking victims alike. We can only hope that the inevitable legal battle forces the Supreme Court to turn their eyes toward the subject and overturn these erroneous decisions as unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. 

This post first appeared on MyErotica.com

REFERENCES:

Cole, Samantha. “Trump Just Signed SESTA/FOSTA, a Law Sex Workers Say Will Literally Kill Them.” Motherboard, Vice.com, 11 Apr. 2018, motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/qvxeyq/trump-signed-fosta-sesta-into-law-sex-work

De Angelo, Gregory J. Craigslist’s Effect on Violence Against Women. gregoryjdeangelo.com/workingpapers/Craigslist5.0.pdf

Fattorosi, Michael. “How Does FOSTA Impact Camming, Dating, Porn & Tube Sites…” AdultBizLaw.com, AdultBizLaw.com, 15 Apr. 2018, adultbizlaw.com/2018/04/15/how-does-fosta-impact-camming-dating-porn-tube-sites/amp/

French, Michael. “Backpage.com Prosecutors Reveal New Details on Site Shutdown Case.” AVN, 17 Apr. 2018, avn.com/business/articles/legal/backpagecom-prosecutors-reveal-new-details-on-site-shutdown-case-772645.html

“Roll Call Vote on Passage of HR 1865 SESTA/FOSTA / Last Vote of the Day | Senate Democratic Leadership.” The Floor, Senate Democrats , 21 Mar. 2018, www.democrats.senate.gov/2018/03/21/roll-call-vote-on-passage-of-hr-1865-last-vote-of-the-day

 

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Sex Workers Speak Out Against SESTA

About the author: Allison Leigh is a pornographer, producer, polyamorist, and professional kinkster. When sexuality is business, business is fun! 

Members of the sex work industry are up in arms about the recent US Senate vote on SESTA – the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which passed March 21 with an overwhelming 97-2 vote. The bill is aimed at holding online service providers culpable for sex trafficking perpetrated or supported via their services, a moral argument that is easily supported at first glance. However, the reality of it is far more overarching. Internet advocates, sex workers, and their supporters are speaking out about SESTA’s pitfalls – namely that without protections for consensual sex work, it forces providers to effectively silence all talk of sex work online; it also potentially violates the First Amendment's protections of freedom of speech. The next step is likely a case to be brought before the Supreme Court, though by whom remains to be seen.

SESTA and its sister bill, FOSTA (now known as the SESTA-FOSTA package) are aimed at protecting victims of trafficking, but if allowed to take effect, will have devastating effects on the online communities that adult workers rely upon to stay safe. By gutting the Section 230 safe harbors of the Communications Decency Act, the legislation silences support networks that consensual sex workers use to share resources such as advice, support, and “bad date lists” that warn workers about violent or predatory clients. Instead of “making it easier for the government to target traffickers online,” the changes will create a new illegal activity – simply allowing people to talk about sex work at all.

In addition to its impact on sex workers, SESTA would affect online service providers and their customers. In the face of increased liability for their users, websites are likely to shut down their comments area, forums, message boards, blogs and chats. The danger is particularly real for adult sites, sex education sites, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, who would be vulnerable to prosecution for hosting adult workers’ accounts. The alternative isn’t much better; were these services to switch to unmoderated discussions, it would still make workers less safe – and provide a loophole for traffickers. 

Pornographic content is hardly safe either – though adult film actors are legally distinguished from sex workers in California and New Hampshire, they’re not in the rest of the United States, leaving adult sites and performers in the rest of the country open to being targeted, and encouraging camsites and other networks like tube sites to limit user uploads. In the wake of this further persecution, adult performers, sex workers, and porn sites are also likely to face another wave of broad-spectrum bans from banking and financial services, who have already historically shied away from the industry for fear of prosecution under the current maze of anti-trafficking laws.

One only needs to ask a sex worker about SESTA to understand why the bill is putting them in danger instead of aiding anti-trafficking efforts. “By removing our ability to safely discuss and screen clients, SESTA puts sex workers back on the streets and back in danger,” one worker tells me via email. “The more you make people hide away, the easier it is to hide criminal activity.” The numbers back her up — a 2017 Baylor University study of violence against women before and after Craigslist provided an “erotic services” section found a 17 percent decrease in female homicides, as well as a decrease in rape cases, because workers could talk to each other openly and screen for bad dates online.

Sex workers, adult websites, and internet free speech advocates such as the Free Speech Coalition are mobilizing strongly against the bill, taking to Twitter, Facebook, and their own broadcasts to implore their clients and fans to support their upcoming fight and speak out against SESTA. By conflating consensual sex work with sex trafficking, legislators seek to deny sex workers agency in their trade. In forcing workers further into hiding, SESTA-FOSTA creates a shadowy underbelly dangerous for sex workers, adult actors, and victims of sexual trafficking alike.

This post first appeared on MyErotica.com

REFERENCES:

"Craigslist’s Effect On Violence ... - gregoryjdeangelo.com." Craigslist’s Effect on Violence. November 2017. Accessed March 15, 2018.gregoryjdeangelo.com/workingpapers/Craigslist5.0.pdf

Levy, Alex F. "Why FOSTA's Restriction on Prostitution Promotion Violates the First Amendment (Guest Blog Post)." Technology & Marketing Law Blog. March 19, 2018. Accessed March 22, 2018. https://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2018/03/why-fostas-restriction-on-prostitution-promotion-violates-the-first-amendment-guest-blog-post.htm

Masnick, Mike. "Can Someone Explain How SESTA Will Stop Sex Trafficking?" Techdirt. Accessed March 15, 2018. https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180304/00472939348/can-someone-explain-how-sesta-will-stop-sex-trafficking.shtml

Mitchell, Ty. "Opinion | If Lawmakers Want To Protect Sex Workers, They Must Listen To Us." The Huffington Post. March 09, 2018. Accessed March 15, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sex-workers-bill-fosta-sesta_us_5aa1924fe4b04c33cb6cecb2

Neidig, Harper. "Senate Passes Controversial Online Sex Trafficking Bill." TheHill. March 21, 2018. Accessed March 22, 2018. http://thehill.com/policy/technology/379553-senate-passes-controversial-online-sex-trafficking-bill

"SESTA - FOSTA - Section 230." Free Speech Coalition. Accessed March 15, 2018. https://www.freespeechcoalition.com/priorities/policy/sesta-fosta-section-230/

"Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act." Wikipedia. March 14, 2018. Accessed March 15, 2018. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Enabling_Sex_Traffickers_Act

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