On the surface, the bills signed by President Trump last week appear to be in the best interest of sex workers, but they are actually putting a number of them in danger. Before we explain why, lets’ take a look at the bills.
FOSTA – Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act
SESTA – Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act
These two bills essentially render an old law useless. The old law, known as the safe harbor law or Section 230, holds that “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.” In other words, large websites and other digital platforms are not responsible for the content generated by their users. It seems like a completely reasonable law, because individuals should be held accountable for their actions, not the owner of the website.
However, FOSTA and SESTA create an exception to Section 230. Website owners and digital platforms can now be held criminally responsible if anything posted on their websites promotes prostitution or consensual sex work. Because of this, Backpage.com has been shut down, Craigslist has closed their “Personals” section, and many other sites are making similar moves. The moves aren’t necessarily being made because those areas promote sex work, but it may simply be too hard to police every single post or message from the countless users posting on these sites.
Hurting Sex Workers
At a very basic level, it seems like the laws are based in sound logic and that they will work to combat sex trafficking. The problem is, not being able to advertise online isn’t going to be the breaking point a provider needs to go straight and get a normal job waiting tables or at a gas station. They are going to continue working in the sex trade regardless of how they have to go about finding clients.
We work directly with a lot of women arrested for prostitution, and they have shared how the internet has made it much easier for them to safely find clients. Instead of standing on a street corner or loitering in a hotel lobby and hoping to connect with a client, the internet allows women to safely advertise themselves and their services from a distance. They can arrange meetups on their time, in safe locations, with fail safes in place in case things get out of hand. The internet may make it easier to work in the sex industry, but it also undoubtedly makes it SAFER to work in the sex industry.
As we said, FOSTA and SESTA aren’t going to be a breaking point for 99 percent of sex trade workers. The are going to continue to trade consensual sex for money, but now they are going to have to do it in bars, in back alleys, or on dark street corners. They are going to become much more vulnerable because of these acts. While there may be a small downturn in prostitution due to these laws, it seems likely that we’ll see a sizable increase in violence against industry women because of these new laws.
I hope the women we represent will find ways to stay safe with the passage of these new bills. If you need any help, whether it’s criminal representation, connection with a women’s service shelter, or professional advice on anything you’re dealing with, reach out to Appelman Law Firm today. We answer our phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (952) 224-2277.