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, 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.

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Comments on “Sex Workers And Survivors Raising The Alarm About SESTA: It Will Literally Put Their Lives In Danger”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Re: knows all about sex trafficking too?

Have you read the article and the sources you moron? There’s plenty of references to people actually engaged into protecting sex workers and sex trafficking victims from our society toxic moralism. Mike has debated for great lengths about the glaring problems this bill will cause to the internet companies as a whole as well as the censorious tone it has and now he went after sources of another bad side of the bills he isn’t an expert at but did a great journalistic job going for the experts.

Grow up.

Ninja (profile) says:

Sadly, in our dumb, moralist society sex workers and sex traffic victims won’t foster too much sympathy because “she should just close her legs” or “she is a sex worker so she must be a despicable person”. The grand jury of moral police couldn’t care less about the collateral damage that people who know what they are talking about are alerting. They just care about the warm and fuzzy feeling of doing something. For the children!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: They don't care about collateral damage.

Maybe they can care about direct damage regarding the cause:

~ SESTA doesn’t slow down sex trafficking rather it only makes sex traficking darker. It conceals it.

~ By not doing anything about actual sex trafficking SESTA pulls limited resources away from real solutions towards a non-solution.

Essentially, those legislators that are pushing SESTA are saying they’re not interested in curbing sex trafficking, but sweeping it under the proverbial rug, Or using sex trafficking as a moral buzzword to push their own agenda, say, disrupting the functionality of the internet.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: They don't care about collateral damage.

I’m inclined to agree with Rick Falkvinge’s assertions that the copyright creep brigade are right behind this and that it’s what this is about.

RE: workers in the sex trade, you can’t scare them straight because the internal and external pressures that put them in that situation aren’t being addressed.

Anyone who was actually serious about ending the sex trade (good luck with that!) would address the demand side, where the actual problem is. As long as there are people willing to pay for sex there will be some provision for serving that market. Try to imagine a sex worker touting for business and getting nothing because nobody is interested. I can’t. As long as there’s demand there WILL be supply.

ECA (profile) says:


Lets ask,
I thought this was Against Human Trafficking..”ITS FOR THE CHILDREN”

What would this bill DO, is keep things UNDER THE TABLE..
The idea is that IF this bill ISNT there, that there is a WAY to monitor and SEE WHO IS USING THE SERVICES OF THE SEX TRADE.. Something ‘some people’ would love to be Private..

Its always Surprised me, that So many are Against Prostitution, but it is STILL AROUND. Most religions, and groups have ostracized those FOUND practicing it.. We have books about it from Long ago..

Someone wants it, Private, Unknown, Unseen, in the background, but ALWAYS there..

Dont give a solution, dont HELP them at all, which Gives someone Control over those Practicing, those that NEED money.

Anonymous Coward says:

no literacy required

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.

I would doubt most congressmen read each bill they vote on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Also, there could be something else that make SESTA unworkable.

Another secession movement, to make Baja California an independent nation could also make SESTA/FOSTA impossible to enforce.

I could see the tech industry pulling up stakes and setting in Baja, where US laws would not apply.

A server in Tijuana would be not subject any US laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

‘Sex Workers And Survivors Raising The Alarm About SESTA: It Will Literally Put Their Lives In Danger’

but the politician who thought of this bill and those who backed it are not in the least interested in anything other than the facts that they personally wont be affected by the bill and dont give a toss about those who will be, even if it means the death of some of those caught up in it!! they are only interested in the fact that it seems as if they have actually done something, regardless of how good or bad and therefore justifies them having the position and salary they do!!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Politicians are putting forth and voting on a bill that they claim is meant to help victims of sex trafficking and reduce it.

The bill stands to do a lot of collateral damage to internet platforms by either resulting in massive over-moderation, or no moderation at all.

They bill also stands to make things worse for the people they claim they are trying to help, as multiple people who have expertise in the subject are pointing out.

Therefore politicians, in a disgusting attempt at cheap PR are pushing a bill that stands to to the exact opposite of their claims, and make things much worse in general.

That clear it up?

Daydream says:


Alright, let’s see…I’m not 100% certain either, but here’s what I think I know:

Sex work, aka prostitution, is just that; offering sex in exchange for money.
It’s not exactly a dream job (every kid says they want to be a doctor or a lawyer or stuff, but never a prostitute), but it requires barely any skill or educational degrees, and it makes a decent amount of money.
So, impoverished people tend to gravitate towards sex work as a way to earn income when they don’t have any other option.

If sex work is criminalised, it doesn’t end the sex trade, it only deters a small handful of prostitutes who have other options for income. It remains an okay-paying, low-skill job that just happens to be illegal. So like drug dealing.
What does happen to prostitutes when their work becomes illegal, is that it makes it harder to form communities within the industry, communicate, reveal hazardous or dangerous clients, et-cetera.
Correspondingly, malicious predators like rapists, robbers, people traffickers, murderers, etc, can go after sex workers, knowing that their target (or those who know them) can’t seek help without being prosecuted themselves.

Now, what the so-called Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act does, or at least, what makes it so dangerous, is that it proposes to make it illegal to have content on a website supporting sex trafficking, even if it were posted by a third party.
Normally, websites and their owners cannot be held responsible for content a third party places on their website; if I linked you to a pirated copy of the whole Game of Thrones series in this comment, Mike Masnick wouldn’t be held liable.
However, if SESTA passes, then Mike Masnick could be held responsible, and possibly face criminal charges, if I said so much as ‘I think sex work should be decriminalised so that prostitutes can actually seek help against violent crime’.
Because of this, sites will be forced to proactively filter any and all content coming from third parties, censoring anything that even hints at sex work; as well as preventing sex workers from finding clients vetted by the community, this will make it easier for predators to avoid accidentally exposing themselves, and conceal evidence trails in the event of a sex-worker-related crime.

The article above is essentially a heavily dressed-up repost; Mike is linking to various articles on the subject, offering snippets of them and short descriptions of each one.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"I know you are, but what am I?"

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.

Which is a particularly despicable and ‘funny’ accusation given that they are the ones pushing to make victims of sex trafficking even worse off. They are the ones pushing for something that will merely brush the problem under the rug rather than address it, so if anyone is in support of sex trafficking it’s the ones pushing this bill.

restless94110 (profile) says:

Always great to see some arrogant Tech Dirt writer listening to prostitutes.Too bad the writer still thinks that sex trafficking is a thing, when it is just the re-defining of prosititution to a term that makes people think that they are “saving the children.”

So long as the writer continues to use the idiotic and dangerous term sex trafficking instead of prositution (sex worker is more accurate but really it’s just prostituion, which should be legalized, and won’t be when it’s continually camouflaged by “sex worker” usage), then all of these law heads passing their legislations (and they will never stop until you face them off with true terms) will keep passing or trying to pass more and more of these horrible, draconian, tyrannical laws.

You have made the mistake of using the terms assigned by your opposition. Cut it out. Call a spade a spade.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Always great to see some arrogant Tech Dirt writer listening to prostitutes.”

So, you shouldn’t listen to people who understand the problems, as long as you can apply a label to them then their inside knowledge doesn’t count? Who else should we be ignoring, so we have a handy list of whose rights and lives don’t matter?

Yes, that’s the way to fight the problem – pretend it doesn’t exist and just attack the people talking about it! Also, if we just ignore the terms that correctly describe the problem, then it will cease to be!

“idiotic and dangerous term sex trafficking instead of prositution “

What’s idiotic and dangerous, apart from people like you not understanding that they essentially refer to two different things and are being treated separately? Or, do you really not believe there’s a difference between someone choosing to work in that industry and someone being forced to do so?

“prostituion, which should be legalized”

I generally agree, except in cases where the sex worker is forced against their will to do it. Are you actually OK with it being legal for people to be forced into it?

“You have made the mistake of using the terms assigned by your opposition”

You have made the mistake of believing that this should be partisan issue. The “opposition” in this case are the people who believe it’s find for people to be sold as sex slaves. It doesn’t matter which team you’ve stupidly assigned yourself to on other issues.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Human Trafficking is non-consentual.

It doesn’t help the lot of a child sex worker when you throw her into prison for a crime she’s being forced to do.

Then it doesn’t stop being coerced when she becomes of age.

We’ve had this conversation. There are legal, consenting, sometimes self-employed sex-workers. And then there are those forced into work. Most often it’s sex work, but human traffickers also sell diamond miners and sweatshop workers as well.

Stop trying to reduce a complex problem into a simple one. It’s not.

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