The road to hell is paved with
good intentions sex work shaming
So I had every intention of doing a deep dive into the recent passage of the FOSTA/SESTA legislation. Then I fell asleep in front of my laptop while writing said deep dive. So instead you’re going to get bullet points, and links. Because this truly is important, and it truly is going to hurt at least a million women (and likely many men) who are engaging in consensual sex work. Not to mention members of the LGBT community, individuals who engage in online kink, and apparently even people who want to say “fuck” on Microsoft products. (Note to self: don’t save first drafts to One Drive, or else I’m fucked.) Also it kinda takes the whole concept of internet freedom and takes it out back for some Ol’ Yellering.
So the basics:
The phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is exemplified by the recent FOSTA/SESTA legislation. The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) both have the aim of ending online sex trafficking by targeting the sites where trafficking enticements and advertisements might happen.
The legislation may or may not help the roughly 6,000 cases of reported trafficking that occur each year. Research is still conflicting about whether this type of action helps decrease trafficking by making it harder for traffickers to find customers, or if it just makes trafficking harder to track and address as it goes underground.
The legislation definitely will hurt roughly one million sex workers who rely on internet resources to advertise their services safely, screen their clients, warn one another about bad clients, seek out clients from a safer indoor location. One study by Baylor University found that escort ads reduced the female homicide rate by over 17%. It’s fairly hard to argue for any legislation that has a net effect of raising the female homicide rate, even if it has ostensibly good intentions.
Because of the breadth and vagueness of the law, many sites are going to close up shop due to the fear that they might be swept up in the legislation, even if they were not initially targeted. Kink sites, dating sites, and social media forums are all going to be either tightening restrictions or closing up shop. This has a quelling effect on many online industries, not to mention freedom of speech and any marginalized person who relies on the internet to be a safe space for them to explore their identity or their sexuality.
The bill has the potential to change online freedom of speech as we know it, and could even lead to the downfall of user-influenced sites like Wikipedia.
So read the links I post. We are unfortunately past the “Call your Congressperson” stage, as the bill has passed both the House and the Senate, and there is little chance that the Hypocrite in Chief won’t sign it into law. But laws can be overturned, and a groundswell of public opposition might make politicians think twice, and might make online sites less scared.
Signed: Feminist Fury
Featured image of classified ads in a newspaper: Ian Lamont, CC BY 2.0