If You Think SESTA Will Help Victims Of Sex Trafficking, Read This Now
from the congress-is-about-to-make-a-huge-mistake dept
Earlier this week, I asked for anyone to explain how SESTA would actually stop any sex trafficking. No one had an answer. In that post, I detailed how it would actually make it harder to stop sex trafficking on various platforms. That’s not because I’m knowledgeable about sex trafficking — but I have spent 20 years documenting what happens when you make platforms liable for the actions of their users. And the result is never what the people pushing for such liability expect. It’s almost always incredibly counterproductive and dangerous.
But someone who does understand issues related to sex work and sex trafficking is Alana Massey, who has written a really fantastic piece detailing just how much harm SESTA will do to both sex workers and victims of sex trafficking. We’ve already discussed how FOSTA expands the scope of the law away from just “sex trafficking” to cover all sex work. And in bolting that together with SESTA, which punches a giant hole (surrounded by vague untested standards) into CDA 230, it also creates a ridiculous moderator’s dilemma for any website. Massey details what that will actually mean.
… the new legislation would threaten to criminalize peer-to-peer resource sharing that makes people in sex work safer and more connected. The very websites that these bills enable law enforcement to criminalize are precisely where I found the generous communities and actionable advice I needed to get out of and avoid exploitative sex work situations going forward. 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.
Before you say, “Just get rid of the ads, then,” know that online ads themselves are one of the greatest tools for protecting yourself as a sex worker: They make it possible to screen clients, arrange safe indoor working conditions, and establish a communication record with clients that street-based work doesn’t provide.
Massey has a lot more in that article about how important CDA 230 is, but that’s the kind of stuff we cover all the time. What’s more interesting are the details about just how much damage SESTA will do directly to the people it purports to “help.” Oh, and she also debunks the moral panic leading up to the bill — specifically the claim that’s been repeated by multiple politicians and famous people pushing SESTA, that it’s as easy to engage in sex trafficking today as it is to order a pizza. She tested out that claim:
The premise is that right this second and in your own hometown, it is totally possible to go online and buy a child for sexual slavery — that it’s “as easy as ordering a pizza,” according to Schumer. I put this claim to the test in my local area and surrounding counties via a set of searches on Backpage that have likely landed me on an FBI watch list. Not one lousy “kid,” “minor,” “teen,” or “child” was available for purchase. Meanwhile, Domino’s is at my house within 21 minutes of me placing an order, come hell or high water. It is almost as if perpetrators of human trafficking aren’t really all that likely to advertise using photos of shackled minors.
And that leads into a much bigger point about just how damaging SESTA is going to be to those victims. I won’t quote the whole thing (go read it!), but she directly takes on the propaganda film, I Am Jane Doe, which has been used widely to support SESTA, to explain how SESTA is likely to create more Jane Does, not fewer.
The term “Jane Doe” has two main uses: The first is referring to a woman in court, often a victim of sexual violence, who is not being legally identified in the proceedings. The second is referring to the unidentified corpses of women murder victims. These bills seek to destroy the few lines of defense people in the sex trades have to protect themselves from becoming Jane Does. These online resources are how I found people who could help me transition out of sex work safely. They didn’t smuggle me out of a lurid foot fetish party in a suitcase under cover of night. They introduced me to editors and gave me some nice pointers on what I could write about when just starting out. My career trajectory was every bit as boring as most career trajectories are: often characterized by boredom and punctuated by both extreme satisfaction and intense desperation.
I don’t feel especially moved to talk about the exploitative scenarios I mentioned above just so I can be summarily dismissed as either a liar or too damaged to speak for myself. I have turned my traumas into practical guidance for new sex workers to help them avoid similar situations. The legislation these celebrities are championing may soon make this healing and sharing process a criminal act punishable by years in prison.
There’s so much more in the article worth reading — including a detailed debunking of what various celebrities have been saying in support of SESTA. It’s a must read for anyone who thinks SESTA is going to save lives. In all the writing I’ve done about SESTA, it’s been from the perspective of wonky knowledge of how “intermediary liability protection” laws work — which made it clear to me that laws like SESTA and FOSTA would backfire and be abused in various ways. Massey’s piece has opened my eyes to the very specific ways in which these laws will create real harm for the victims the bill is supposedly trying to help. Please read it.