Ever since President Donald Trump signed bipartisan bills Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) into law this past April, panic has set in among the sex work community. Often lumped together as FOSTA-SESTA, this legislation was introduced to Congress with an intent to end human trafficking. However, it has also inadvertently targeted consensual sex workers, forcing many to resort to other more dangerous practices.
SESTA-FOSTA challenges section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act of 1996, which states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Therefore, websites like Facebook, Amazon, Craigslist, Reddit and YouTube were legally protected, should a user post unsavory or offensive content on their own accord.That was before FBI and other federal agencies raided the home of former Backpage.com owner Michael Lacey. Known for its adult personal ads, the controversial website was shut down and seized by the FBI, once allegations related to child sex trafficking were raised.
Now under SESTA-FOSTA, any site believed to be hosting ads related to human trafficking is at risk of prosecution, even if they are unaware that some of their users are promoting trafficking. Because lawmakers’ stance on sex work seems to exclude the possibility of consensual sex work, SESTA-FOSTA appears to blur the line between consensual sex worker and actual human trafficking. Some sites preemptively removed its adult content earlier this year, including subreddits containing sexual content. Likewise, sex-work directories, like CityVibe and NightShift, have also been shut down. According to a report from Engadget, Google has even started to purge the Drive accounts of cam performers, who sell clips and videos to clients.
Blavity spoke with Tamika Spellman, policy and advocacy associate for Helping Individual People Survive (HIPS). A Black, trans woman and sex worker, Spellman knows firsthand how society looks down on those who engage in this work.
For 25 years, HIPS has provided laundry facilities, a syringe exchange, meals and other services to anyone in need. A safe haven offering assistance to full-service workers, the organization has recently experienced a surge in the sex workers they service because of SESTA- FOSTA. Spellman’s position at HIPS often involves caring for marginalized individuals while advocating for laws that better protect those working in the sex industry.
“Because of this crazy f**king law, which was passed relatively easily, life has become extremely hard,” Spellman said.
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