Sex Workers And Survivors Raising The Alarm About SESTA: It Will Literally Put Their Lives In Danger
from the granstanding-putting-people's-lives-at-risk dept
Last week I asked for anyone to explain how SESTA would (in any way) reduce sex trafficking? Not a single person even tried to answer. Because there is no answer. Sex trafficking is already illegal, and yet people do it. Nothing in SESTA makes sex trafficking more illegal. Nothing in SESTA makes it easier for law enforcement to find or crack down on sex trafficking or to help the victims of sex trafficking. Indeed, as we’ve detailed, it does the exact opposite. It puts criminal liability on internet sites that are somehow used in conjunction with prostitution (going beyond just trafficking, thanks to the FOSTA addition to SESTA), and uses a vague, poorly drafted, unclear “knowledge” standard that none of SESTA’s supporters can adequately explain or define. As we noted, from our experience in covering what happens when you pin liability on a platform instead of its users — especially using vague and unclear standards — bad things usually result.
But over the past few days, it’s becoming increasingly clear just how dangerous this bill could actually be. Last week we wrote about Alana Massey’s powerful article on just how much damage SESTA could actually do to sex workers, including shutting down the various resources that they use to protect themselves, keep safe, or even get information to get out of sex work (for those who wish to do so). It also will mean that sites that provide tools and information for victims of sex trafficking may also be forced to shut down. It’s hard to see how that’s a good thing.
Over at Jezebel, Tracy Clark-Flory notes that the bill “is a disaster for basically everything it touches,” and highlights how survivors of sex work have set up their own Survivors Against SESTA website that lays out in stark detail just how dangerous SESTA will be for everyone.
Shutting down websites that sex workers use to work indoors and screen clients more safely does not stop traffickers. To the contrary, this only drives sex workers, including those who are trafficked, to find clients on the street where they face higher rates of violence, HIV, Hepatitis C and sexually transmitted infections, and exploitation.
These websites hold vital resources for trafficking investigations.
There are no industry standards to stop traffickers from using websites for exploitation. This legislation does not get us closer to that goal, and instead makes it harder for police, prosecutors, or websites to identify and help victims.
They also note that SESTA will disproportionately harm those in the LGBTQ community. It highlights a letter from the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a bunch of other groups noting:
Meaningful anti-trafficking work should not make those in the sex trade more susceptible to violence and exploitation. After the closure of RedBook and Rentboy.com, sex workers were instantly thrown from the online spaces and communities which provided the ability to screen clients, find out safety and health information and form community. The ability to access online platforms to advertise means that sex workers are able to screen clients for safety, negotiate boundaries such as condom use, and work in physically safer spaces. A 2017 study from West Virginia University and Baylor University found a 17% drop in female homicide rates correlated to Craigslist opening its Erotic section ? because it made sex work safer. Taking away online platforms moves sex workers into more vulnerable and violent conditions, including street-based work where rates of physical and sexual violence and exploitation are significantly higher.
Over and over again supporters of SESTA have framed anyone against is as somehow being supporters of sex trafficking — which is both wrong and blatantly intellectually dishonest. One can be very much against the exploitation of trafficking victims while simultaneously recognizing that SESTA and FOSTA are horrible ways to try to deal with those issues, and to highlight how those bills will not help, and will cause an awful lot of very real damage, including putting people’s lives at risk. In response, some SESTA supporters will rightly claim that sex trafficking victims lives are also at risk — which is true… but that brings us back to the simple fact that nothing in SESTA actually helps victims of sex trafficking. It just maks it harder for law enforcement to find them, help them and to arrest those responsible for the trafficking in the first place. Instead, it gives law enforcement incentives to go after internet companies, while the sex trafficking continues, often in places that are more difficult for law enforcement to track, and while making it much harder for those involved to get access to the information they need.
Elsewhere, groups that work with victims of sex trafficking are speaking out on how much damage these bills would do to the actual victims. They even point out that the demonized Backpage was essential in helping bring traffickers to justice:
Megan Mattimoe, executive director and staff attorney at Advocating Opportunity, which assisted 150 victims of trafficking this past year, says she has seen Backpage provide information about trafficking victims captured in ads along with data on advertisers to aid in prosecutions. ?In our cases,? she says, ?Backpage not only complied with prosecutors? requests, but they would also send someone to trial to testify that those business records were authentic.? Since Backpage closed its adult advertising section in January 2017, Mattimoe says, her organization has seen ?victims advertised on sites housed outside the U.S.,? where federal prosecutors have neither subpoena power nor Backpage?s cooperation.
Again, it is difficult to see how this is helping victims of sex trafficking in any way at all.
Many more people are speaking out on Twitter using the hashtag #LetUsSurvive. One of the organizers of that campain, Lola Li, gave a fascinating interview in which she discusses why she is so worried about SESTA/FOSTA and the impact it will have on survivors and marginalized communities:
…the laws that prosecutors need to go after traffickers ALREADY EXIST. We don?t need more laws. That?s not going to address the root causes of the problem. This bill is not about fighting trafficking. It?s a way for self-interested politicians and self-interested ?anti-trafficking? (rolling my eyes, as if anyone could be pro-trafficking) groups to pat themselves on the back while actually doing nothing to help.
Unfortunately, from all indications, almost no one in the Senate cares about what this bill will actually do. They’ve decided that since the bill says it’s against sex trafficking, it must actually be against sex trafficking, and no matter how many times people point to the damage it will actually do to victims, they’re going to vote for it, and then hide from and ignore the very real damage they’ve created.