More People Realizing That SESTA Will Do A Lot More Harm Than Good

from the it's-a-problem dept

At this point, it seems fairly clear that Congress simply does not care that SESTA is going to do an awful lot of harm for almost no benefit at all, and is rushing towards a Senate vote. But more and more people outside of Congress are recognizing the problems that it will cause. While all of the supporters of the bill are insisting they're doing it to "protect" victims of sex trafficking, as we've explained SESTA will almost certainly make their lives worse -- putting them at much more risk while doing little to nothing to stop actual trafficking. The Daily Dot has a good article talking to advocates for victims of sex trafficking and sex workers, talking about the damage SESTA will cause:

In her 40 years of involvement with the industry—formerly as a trafficking victim, a consensual sex worker, and currently as an advocate and outreach provider—DiAngelo has seen many similar efforts by the government and law enforcement to crack down on the establishments and platforms sex workers use to secure clients. Every time, she explains, the end result is the same.

“When you take away a worker’s available options, they have to drop down to the next-best available option. Nobody thinks about that,” DiAngelo says. “But we don’t disappear because they get rid of our work. Our food disappears, our security, our housing … our safety, that disappears, but we don’t and our need for services definitely doesn’t disappear.” Those things, she says, only grow.

Finding work from an ad posted on the internet means there’s a documented trail linking a sex worker and the client; it means the sex worker has the time to do due diligence, checking in with the client’s references and consulting a community of peers to determine whether or not this person is safe. When those sites shut down, as they periodically do, sex workers look elsewhere for clients—most often, on the street.

And that leads to much more dangerous situations:

Fearful of arrest, sex workers move off main streets and into areas where they’re more difficult to spot. Under pressure to make money, they have less time to assess the situation at hand, leaving them vulnerable to violent predators and, indeed, traffickers with a penchant for exploiting people in desperate situations. When sites like RedBook and Backpage shut down, “the life of the trafficker does not change at all,” DiAngelo says. “They still have their product, which is the victim.”

So again, it's unclear why people think that attacking the platforms (and not the actual traffickers) will help the victims at all.

Meanwhile, following the lead of the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times has released an editorial detailing what a disaster SESTA is and how much harm it will do:

The internet has been a tremendous force for good in the world, creating untold opportunities to connect, communicate, learn, create and make a living. But many of the properties of the net that make good things possible also enable less desirable pursuits, and even evil ones, on a vast scale. Congress is now focused on one of the worst of those pursuits: sex trafficking. It's taking particular aim at websites like that run ads for prostitutes, some of whom have been shown to be underage or adults who are effectively enslaved. But in their efforts to give prosecutors and victims more power in court, lawmakers are poised to weaken a legal protection that has helped produce much of what's good about the net.

The LA Times piece, as did the WSJ piece, also notes that Backpage -- the site that backers of the bill admitted they're targeting, despite the fact that it has already shut down its adult ads section -- still faces two big legal challenges that will show the site is not immune under CDA 230:

The irony is that, as a Senate investigation last year contended, Backpage may not be entitled to immunity under Section 230. It's now facing a Justice Department investigation and a renewed lawsuit by trafficking victims in Boston. If Congress simply cannot wait to see how those cases turn out, there is a middle ground — it could give state attorneys general clearer authority to go after websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws. But if it insists on carving out a bigger hole in Section 230 to battle sex trafficking, it's only a matter of time before it comes under pressure to address another evil, and then another, and then another. And before you know it, there will be nothing left of Section 230.

It really is a big question that no one in Congress seems to want to answer. Why can't Congress wait to see if either the DOJ or the court in Boston can get to Backpage -- because if they can, then there's really no argument for SESTA at all (and, as noted in the first half of this post, it's not clear what the argument is for SESTA anyway). However, in talking to people on the Hill, it appears the general opinion of our lawmakers is that they don't really care if the bill doesn't do anything good. They really want to claim they've "done something" and "going after sex trafficking" (even if it will actually make the problem worse) leads to good headlines. Also, the impression I've gotten is they're sick of people arguing about how bad this bill will be, so they want to pass it just to get it off their plates -- which seems like a bad way to make laws to me. But what do I know?

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Filed Under: cda 230, intermediary liability, sesta, sex trafficking, sex workers

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    Anonymous Coward, 8 Mar 2018 @ 8:55am

    Google/Facebook: *crickets*

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