We wish to bring your attention to two federal bills that pose an incredible danger to sex workers, trafficking victims, and our freedom of speech: FOSTA (H.R. 1865, Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017) and SESTA (S. 1693, Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017).
FOSTA recently passed the House of Representatives. SESTA, a related bipartisan bill, has been introduced in the Senate. It was introduced by Republican Senator Rob Portman, and has 66 cosponsors, including Illinois Senators Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. While these bills purport to protect trafficking victims, in practice, they will subject sex workers to further surveillance and criminalization.
As Chicago-based organizers working to end the criminalization of those that engage in survival, we urge you to take action by calling Durbin and Duckworth. Demand that they vote NO on SESTA!
What SESTA Does:
How SESTA Harms Sex Workers:
Sex workers rely on online advertising as a harm reduction strategy. They rely on various online platforms to create secure communities, to share resources, and to host ads, which allow them to offer services and to screen potential clients for violence. Through advertising, sex workers have safer access to clients and, therefore, safer access to income. If sex workers can’t engage in these types of harm reduction practices, they’re often forced to the street, where they’re more prone to danger and to criminalization. Anti-trafficking organizer Kate D’Adamo states that this bill will “undermine almost every single thing I would tell people for how to stay alive.”
We know that sex workers who are most likely to endure these additional harms are sex workers who are poor, women of color, queer and/or trans. We know that sex workers face violence at the hands of police and clients. We know that because of social stigma and discrimination, sex workers have little recourse from the system when they have survived violence, which further increases their vulnerability.
As writer Alana Massey explains, “The problem is that these bills target websites that are widely and inaccurately believed to be hubs of trafficking activity when it is precisely those websites that enable people in the sex trades to do their work safely and independently, at the same time as they make it easier for authorities to find and investigate possible trafficking cases.” We cannot let SESTA take away the safety and survival strategies sex workers have developed.
How SESTA Harms Online Expression
SESTA uses sex workers and victims of trafficking as an excuse to further clamp down on our freedom of online expression. Recall that net neutrality protections are being reversed. Former President Obama actively endorsed net neutrality and enacted a set of rules to prevent major corporations such as Amazon, Comcast, and Verizon, from monopolizing internet access and from controlling online content. SESTA will further limit how we engage and express ourselves in online communities, who gets access, and how that access gets controlled. For this reason, free speech groups and even some mainstream feminist organizations are strongly opposing this bill.
How SESTA Harms Activists and Advocates
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), SESTA bill would “force online web platforms to police their users’ activity much more stringently than ever before, silencing a lot of innocent voices in the process.” This means that grassroot organizations like ours can face criminal prosecution when advocating for the rights of sex workers, defending them from criminalization, or sharing resources that are critical to their safety and survival. Given the conflation between consensual sex work and trafficking, advocacy work easily can be misconstrued as “supporting” traffickers. The EFF echoes this concern, making clear that instead of fulfilling its aims, this legislation would be “a disaster for internet intermediaries, marginalized communities, and even trafficking victims themselves.”
What We Can Do to Fight SESTA
Support sex workers who are leading the fight against S. 1693. Call your senators before Monday, 3/12/18, and demand that they vote NO on SESTA. To our fellow Illinois residents, please call Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth. Let them know they have made a mistake in co-sponsoring SESTA and urge them to vote NO.
Use these scripts from The Massachusetts Sex Worker Ally Network
Hi, my name is ____________ and I live in ___________ (city in district). I’m calling to urge Senator ____________ to vote NO on SESTA, Senate Bill 1693 because it infringes on online free speech and community harm reduction practices. SESTA does not protect trafficking survivors – it only further criminalizes them and sex workers. I strongly urge the Senator to vote no on this extremely important bill on Monday. Thank you.
I am a [loved one of a/parent of a/service provider to/an ally of] sex worker[s] and this bill would compromise the lives of people who trade sex, including trafficking victims, by taking away the platforms people are using to stay safe. I am calling to ask you not to put [me/my community/my loved one/my child] in danger of greater violence and victimization. Please vote no on this terribly misguided bill, which is expected to be voted on March 12. Thank you for your time!”
Find your senators’ numbers here.
Chicago Organizations in Support: