Senate Passed Anti-Sex Trafficking Bill That Compromises Sex Workers, Is Now On Its Way to Trump

C-Span Screenshot
C-Span Screenshot

The Senate passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) on Wednesday, which would allow websites, social media apps, and any other online platform to be held criminally liable for facilitating sex trafficking. If signed into law, it would make it easier for law enforcement to go after sites like Backpage.com—known for classified ads selling sex—as they can no longer hide behind old safe harbor provisions which protected them from being held responsible for illegal content posted on their sites.

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Lawmakers worked across party lines to pass this legislation; it passed 97-2 and received glowing praise from Democrats like Diane Feinstein and Republicans like John Thune. In a press conference on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “The president and his entire administration are firmly committed to holding those who participate in these horrific crimes accountable, and look forward to continued work with these stakeholders in order to put an end to this scourge.”

But the bill is leaving civil-liberties advocates, Silicon Valley, and sex workers—who rely on online platforms to drum up business—reeling. Sex workers are particularly vulnerable, especially given the news that Reddit banned escort and sugar daddy communities just hours after the bill passed the Senate. In an Allure article critiquing the bill, Alana Massey explained just how important it is for sex workers to have online spaces, not just for business, but for safety as well:

Though the bill is meant to target sites hosting sex work advertisements, it covers online forums where sex workers can tip each other off about dangerous clients, find emergency housing, get recommendations for service providers who are sex worker-friendly, and even enjoy an occasional meme. These are often on the same websites where advertisements are hosted.

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Jezebel’s own Tracy Clark-Flory described the bill as a disaster:

The conflation between trafficking and sex work is not unique to this legislation; it’s the same thing you see happening in a lot of mainstream media coverage and, often, in feminist debate. Because so much of mainstream discourse refuses to see distinctions between consensual sex work and trafficking, the flaws of this bill are also present in a seemingly endless stream of sex trafficking bills. Anti-trafficking organizations themselves often rely on definitions that fail to recognize the existence of consensual sex work, so it’s no surprise many of these organizations support the bill.

President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law, probably as soon as he’s done beefing with Joe Biden.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the Senate passing the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA); FOSTA is the House version of the bill. The Senate version of the bill is called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.

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DISCUSSION

iforgotmyotherburners
IforgotMyOtherBurners

People and organizations aren’t necessarily failing to see distinctions between consensual sex work and trafficking. It’s misguided to oppose this bill because if might hurt consensual (but illegally practicing) sex workers. If you’re against the bill for that purpose, you should be campaigning to make sex working legal, not to simply stopping this bill.

According to a 2 year study released in 2016 by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, there are almost 79,000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking in Texas today. All told, Texas has more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking, including nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking. (http://sites.utexas.edu/idvsa/files/2017/02/Human-Trafficking-by-the-Numbers-2016.pdf) That’s 1 state - I tremble at how high the numbers must be for the entire country.

But we should oppose this bill because people, however consensual it may be, are involved in a currently illegal business might get punished for it? Or it might “hurt small start-ups that don’t have the resources to meet its demands and could trigger extensive content filtering”? If you’re any size of start-up or currently existing business that is enabling the sex trafficking of anyone, particularly children, then your product isn’t ready nor does it deserve to be operating until you can say that you have done everything in your power not to put these children at risk.