Can Someone Explain How SESTA Will Stop Sex Trafficking?

from the questions,-questions dept

Last week I got into a bit of a debate with a SESTA supporter about the bill, which boiled down to me saying that the bill won’t do what it claims, will likely make things worse for victims of sex-trafficking, and will also have massive consequences for the internet and speech online. And the response from the person I was debating was “but my side has all these anti-sex-trafficking groups supporting SESTA.” That’s not exactly a response to any of the points that I raised. As we’ve noted from the very start, we may not be experts in sex-trafficking, but we do know how the internet works — and how laws on intermediary liability impact the internet and content online. And nothing in SESTA will work the way its supporters seem to think it will work.

So I want to directly ask here the same questions I asked the individual I was debating (which he refused to answer before tossing out a few ad hominems and suggesting that I’m not worth talking to because I’m “a blogger.”): what in SESTA will actually stop or limit sex-trafficking? Because as far as I can tell, it does absolutely nothing to stop sex-trafficking. It does not target sex-traffickers in any way. Supporters of the bill claim or appear to believe that it will stop sex-trafficking by stopping websites from allowing anyone to engage in sex-trafficking or advertising sex-trafficking victims on their websites. But that’s not at all how the bill works.

It’s (obviously!) already illegal to engage in sex-trafficking. And it’s already illegal to advertise sex-trafficking. And law enforcement can already go after those doing both of those things. And yet, miraculously, both of those things still occur frequently online. Now, a reasonable response to this would be to suggest that law enforcement has a good source of information with which to investigate, arrest, and prosecute sex traffickers, since the necessary information is apparently so easily obtained online.

So, what does SESTA do? Rather than make it easier for law enforcement to go after those illegal activities, it creates a new illegal activity: that of running a website that is used by sex traffickers. So, as we’ve discussed before, this creates a serious “moderator’s dilemma” for websites, leading to one of two likely outcomes. Many websites may stop moderating content, because if they’re not looking at the content, they can more credibly claim a lack of knowledge. That means less moderation, less oversight, and likely more use of those platforms for sex-trafficking ads. So, suddenly, sex-traffickers will gravitate to those platforms, and those platforms will be less likely to cooperate with law enforcement because (again) they want to avoid “knowledge” of how their platform is being used, and working with law enforcement risks more knowledge.

On the flip-side of the moderator’s dilemma, you will get sites that much more vigorously moderate content. This seems to be the solution that SESTA supports think all platforms will embrace — which is almost certainly incorrect. Indeed, it’s incorrect on multiple levels, because not only will some platforms embrace this more heavy moderation setup, those that do will almost certainly over-moderate to a drastic degree, in order to avoid liability. That will mean fairly aggressive levels of keyword blocking, filters, and automated removals. And, as anyone who has studied how such systems work in the real world, all of those will fail. And they’ll fail with both false negatives and false positives. That is, lots of perfectly legitimate content will get taken down (perhaps, as we’ve discussed before, it could be material to help victims of sex-trafficking), and lots of sex-trafficking content will still get through.

It’s that latter point that’s pretty important: the people engaged in sex-trafficking are already breaking the law. SESTA changes nothing for them in terms of the illegality of what they’re doing. It just means the tools they use are going to change a little bit, and anyone who thinks the traffickers won’t adjust with it has apparently never spent any time on the internet. If keywords get blocked, traffickers will come up with new euphemisms (they always do). If forums get shut down, they will gravitate to other forums. If filters are created, they will figure out ways to get around the filters. Nothing in SESTA creates any disincentives at all for actual traffickers.

Indeed, SESTA creates a few things that will make life easier for traffickers. As noted above, it will likely lead some sites to do less moderation, and traffickers will quickly gravitate to such sites. Additionally, it will make it much, much harder for rights groups to post information to help victims of sex-trafficking, since much of that information will be seen as a liability risk, and blocked or taken down. And, finally, it will create massive disincentives for sites to work with law enforcement or families of victims to help them, because of the risk of those actions being used to prove the requisite “knowledge.”

So, please: can someone who is a supporter of SESTA explain how the bill will do anything to actually stop sex trafficking? Because I can’t find a single useful thing that it does.

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Comments on “Can Someone Explain How SESTA Will Stop Sex Trafficking?”

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Skyler Rain says:

Re: Re: Re: Out of sight out of mind

All SESTA has done is hurt the ppl who are in the sex industry willingly AND the victims.SESTA has pushed the actual victims underground where they can’t be found easily at ALL.
These traffickers aren’t saying “Owell time to move on” they are getting smarter. They already started making pop-up brothels.They pick a location stay for few days to a week then MOVE. Good luck finding the victims now that they are constantly on the move.
They are also sending these victims to other countries-how is that helping?They are STILL trafficked,just not in the US so who cares right Out of sight out of mind? Being in a foreign land makes it HARDER for them to escape and reunite w family and also has them more AFRAID to try.

How do I know this? Because I am a sex worker and I know what is going on in my community.Most of us are in it willingly. In over a decade I have only come across (or heard of) 5 ppl who were trafficked. And I have contact w SW in the US, Canada, UK, AU ect.
I Have been in some form form of SW for 12 yrs. When I was an exotic dancer I helped a Russian girl escape her traffickers.Even let her live in my apartment until she could get a replacement passport.She was brought here from a ballet school thinking she had a ballet dancing career in the US.We connected because I studied Classical Ballet day for 13 yrs and she saw it in my dance style. I also helped a fellow escort who was trafficked escape and reunite w her family.
We are a HUGE community and we WERE policing ourselves along w actual law enforcement.
The ppl that go into sex work willingly are here WITH there girls who are not willing…WE KNOW what is going in on the inside. We report any activity we see and help who we can. When I 1st started escorting I looked very young.The local cops contacted me from an advertisement I had online.They came to me in person,made me prove I was over 18 and asked a lot of questions making sure I didn’t work for someone.They didn’t arrest me (because I did not agree to do anything sexual for money) nut they sure did their job that day.How are the police to scan local ads and check on the girls now? Instead they are spread so far and so under the radar that they are almost impossible to find. AND they are now not making the $$ they WERE w the big named sites down so I’m sure these victims are now worked harder,longer hours and treated worse.

SESTA has also removed the platforms thousands of escorts used to screen clients. We were able to see if they had criminal records, were on the sex registry, had hurt any other worker with the cluck of 1 button and a monthly fee. That is now GONE. I now fear for my own safety and all the other workers I know. Its like waking up 1 day and half your income is gone.
I am fortunate to be known as a highly reviewed,respected and trusted escort for many years so I have a large following. A lot of girls don’t have that and don’t know how they are going to eat next week. Which has forced many into the arms of pimps…or walk the streets getting into cars w strangers. Myself and girls I know are ALREADY being contacted by pimps trying to get us to work for them.
Cam girls are having the money in their work accounts frozen because the online banks are afraid to work w the sites now. Money they already earned.
This bill is a DISASTER and has done nothing but harm. All the public heard was “hey stop sex trafficking this will do it” of COURSE they all said ok. No one knew WHAT was really about to happen.
Its sad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Out of sight out of mind

I feel like it’s more of a case of people failing to even attempt to look ahead or consider how the people affected will adapt. You see this sort of thing a lot playing against really new players in various board and video games, or with kids trying reason out hypothetically fighting someone. They see you doing some behavior that is defeating them soundly, they very quickly come up with some plan to counter the behavior you’re doing without realizing that you too will alter your actions in response to theirs only for them to find that now they lose even more badly.

It’s like they played risk with you and found that in the previous game that their attacking with reckless abandon in random directions didn’t work, so they decide that you must have defeated them because they attacked too much. So, next game they decide to virtually not attack you at all and let you take over the whole map, defeating them even faster.

Anonymous Coward says:

FIRST, you tell me how Twitter stopping racist accounts ends racism? Cause you're all for that! When it's Twitter arbitrarily enforcing PC-weenie-ism, you're clear that NOT giving an outlet may well affect spread.

And yet you prop up this ragged straw-man again, that there must be a direct connection between an obvious good of stopping the advertising and prosecutions. — SO YET AGAIN, try to understand that it’s just ONE PART.

And try to be less blatant that your ONLY concern is with corporate profits, Google-boy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: FIRST, you tell me how Twitter stopping racist accounts ends racism? Cause you're all for that! When it's Twitter arbitrarily enforcing PC-weenie-ism, you're clear that NOT giving an outlet may well affect spread.

Allowing private businesses to police their own premises (or not) as they see fit is the exact opposite of passing laws demanding such action from businesses.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Ok, let's try this:

FIRST, you tell me how Twitter stopping racist accounts ends racism?

That’s a strawman. I never claimed that it would stop racism. But, either way, it’s very different for a private platform to say "I don’t want to be associated with that" then for the government to pass a law saying "it’s illegal to do this." You do know the difference, right?

And yet you prop up this ragged straw-man again, that there must be a direct connection between an obvious good of stopping the advertising and prosecutions. — SO YET AGAIN, try to understand that it’s just ONE PART.

No. You are either misunderstanding or deliberately misstating. The STATED PURPOSE of the law is to stop sex trafficking. Yet many people have explained how this is likely to make the problem worse. So I’m asking people to justify how the STATED REASON for the bill will work to meet that STATED PURPOSE. Which seems like a fairly small ask.

The fact that you seek to misdirect and mislead in response pretty much confirms that you can’t explain how it stops sex trafficking. Because it doesn’t.

And try to be less blatant that your ONLY concern is with corporate profits, Google-boy.

This entire post is about the question of how to stop sex trafficking. It has nothing to do with profits. Why would you claim otherwise, other than (yet again) to misdirect?

Anonymous Coward says:

All I gotta is is that if you own a house in the Bay Area, sell it now, take the money and run, becuase FOSTA has aleady passed the House, and when it passes the Senate, Bay Area property values are going to drop like a rock.

Why? Because Silicon Valley companies will pull up stakes and leave the United States, where they cannot be touched.

When tech companies, and all their high paying jobs, leave the the United States for foreign lands, home values will drop like a rock in tech-heavy places like Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, or Sacramento.

If you own land in those areas, sell now, and take a profit while you can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another issue with SESTA/FOSTA will be if either Calexit happens, or if Pacifica (Washington, Oregon, California) happens.

If the latter happens, nearly all the big tech players will in the Republic Of Pacifica, and be not subject to SESTA/FOSTA.

A company in Pacifica, with all its servers in Pacifica, would not be subject to the laws of the remaining United States.

YouTube, Twitter, Faceboook, Microsoft, and many others will no longer be American companies if this happens, and, therefore, will not have to follow the laws of the remaining United State. As Pacfican companies, they will only have follow Pacifican law, if Pacifica happens,and it could happen.

They are trying to get ballot measures in all three states, that if they pass, would authorize a vote in May of 2021 on whether Pacifica should become an independent nation. If that happens, there are a number of tech companies that will no longer have to follow the laws of what would be the 47 remaining United States.

The Feds no will jurisdiction to, say, demand information on Hotmail users, since the servers will be Pacifica. If servers are not in America, they are not subject to US laws.

And before you say “extradition”, I did see once what the constitution of Pacifica would look like, and the Pacifican government would be constitutionally prohibited from handing over any of its citizens to stand trial to any foreign country.

Anonymous Coward says:


Indeed, SESTA creates a few things that will make life easier for traffickers.

In other words, politicians can grandstand right now to claim they’re working to stop trafficking. And it will fail, so they’ll get to do it again right before the next election.

So… what’s the problem (for politicians)?

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, you’ve talked about two responses to SESTA: under-moderating and over-moderating. But doesn’t this leave out an even larger group?

SESTA only applies to websites operating in the USA. All a sex trafficker would have to do, assuming SESTA actually has any effect on sex trafficking, would be to use a website outside the US, which isn’t governed by SESTA.

It’s not like SESTA has any reciprocity laws set up anywhere outside the USA….

So another side effect of SESTA is that more traffic is driven to non-US sites as far as moderated forums go.

As for actual benefits? I have no idea. This law appears to do nothing but limit moderated forums to large established players, helping them maintain their place in the ecosystem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“SESTA only applies to websites operating in the USA. All a sex trafficker would have to do .. would be to use a website outside the US”

Many people once thought the very same thing about (copyright infringing) FTP download sites, and they turned out to be dead wrong. It remains to be seen if the US government will put countries which host such sites under anywhere near the pressure that was applied to stamp out copyright infringement across the globe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Then again, what happens if Pacifica should become a nation three years from now, should Wshington, Oregon, and California pass ballot initiatives that authorize a independene vote in May of 2021?

The tech industry would, by far, be the largest, in Pacifica, and Pacifica would likely tell the remaining 47 United States to go to hell.

A server in Pacifica would not be subject to the laws of the 47 remaining United States.

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

ROFL. Really? You really think the dictator in charge at the time would allow anything like that to happen? A state of emergency would be declared which would fall under Continuity of government, Marshall law would get declared and the military would make those states look like Iraq in a heartbeat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Very true. This if is SESTA/FOSTA passes, home values in Silicon Valley are going to come crashing down from their insane levels, when tech companies pack and leave the United States, where USA laws do not apply.

That is why already said, in another post, that if you own property in Silicon Valley, you should sell now, and take the profit, while you can, before SESTA/FOSTA passes.

ECA (profile) says:

As we long know..

1 step in a direction with laws and regulations, leads to MORE steps doing the same..
1 step to limit, restrict speech..2, then 3, then 4…
Once you have a foundation for it, it will build and build..

The REGULATION that states that Corps are not liable to consumers, but only to Stock holders…IS/WAS a BIG. bad step..and started allot of this rolling.
The problem with this, is there are more then 1 KIND OF STOCK, and most give no allowance to control the corp. If you dont consider 1/2 of your consumers, WHERE are you going to get your money?? That includes your stock holders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Eat Shit - Billions of Flies Can't Be Wrong (a la Łysiak. et al.)

“…but my side has all these anti-sex-trafficking groups supporting SESTA.”

The implicit lie used to coerce support being, “So, if all these fine, decent, upstanding, anti-sex-trafficking groups favor SESTA, and you’re not, then you must be in favor of sex-trafficking.”

No, I’m in favor of not following the crowd when it comes to eating shit.

restless94110 (profile) says:

SESTA will do nothing to stop anything

Since sex trafficking is code for prostitution, SESTA will do nothing at all except bring more police state intrusion in privacy.

You really need to get a grip on this term sex trafficking. It is meaningless. It’s true meaning is prostitution. If you believe prostituion should remain prohibited then by all means continue to use the stupid term sex trafficking.

But it would best you educate yourself and your readers.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Sex Trafficking vs. Prostitution

The difference is that in prostitution the worker is doing so by consent. The crime of prostitution concerns the morality of sex.

In sex trafficking, the worker is coerced, and it’s regarded as human slavery. Only recently in California did all incidents of underage prostitution get reclassified as a human trafficking case, in which the pimp is regarded as the responsible party and the criminal, and rather than putting these kids in jail we put them into rehabilitation.

Then we realized that it doesn’t just magically become consensual just because someone enters majority.

Yes, this may eventually open up a big can of worms regarding how many employees in the US labor market suffer their jobs out of desperation for want of no better options, but we’re not there yet. In the current era, we’re happy to continue to despise our impoverished middle class.

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