What is the current climate like for sex workers in the United States?
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) are U.S. Senate and House bills that were signed into law by President Donald Trump on April 11, 2018.
These bills strengthen existing laws against knowingly assisting, facilitating, or supporting sex trafficking, and amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (which makes online services immune from civil liability for the actions of their users) to exclude enforcement of federal or state sex trafficking laws from its immunity.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SEX WORKERS AND TRAFFICKED PEOPLE?
While supporters have framed FOSTA and SESTA as tools that will fight sex trafficking, they fail to acknowledge the difference between sex workers and people who are trafficked—and as sex workers, trafficking survivors, and advocates for both have said for years, this only makes both groups less safe.
Mere months after the passage of FOSTA-SESTA, sex workers were already reporting that many were forced to return to street work. In that same period of time, the SFPD reported that sex trafficking had spiked by 170 percent.
WHAT ABOUT FREE SPEECH?
SESTA has been criticized by pro-free speech groups for weakening section 230 safe harbors, alleging that it would make providers become liable for any usage of their platforms that facilitates sex trafficking.
As reported by Vox last year, “Instead of directly targeting websites known to facilitate sex trafficking, the FOSTA-SESTA hybrid essentially sets up a template for “broad-based censorship” across the web. This means websites will have to decide whether to overpolice their platforms for potential prostitution advertisements or to underpolice them so they can maintain a know-nothing stance, which would likely be a very tricky claim to prove in court.”
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A letter from the US Department of Justice outlining its support of amending the language of section 2421A “so that Congress can clarify its intent to target traffickers” as opposed to “consenting adults” conducting “consensual commercial sex transactions.”