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The Impact of FOSTA-SESTA

The Section 230 amendment was meant to reduce human trafficking. Instead, it stripped agency and safety from sex workers.

Illustration by Sandra Markarian

Content warning: Police violence, gentrification, sexual assault from police. The nature of our work isn’t violent, but the criminalization of sex work can lead to dangerous and violent situations for workers. The end game is decriminalization. Please practice self-care while reading each worker’s story. Bless. 

Nessa: What was work like for you before FOSTA-SESTA took effect?

Jinx: I can only speak to my personal experiences and the community that I’m in here. But before SESTA and FOSTA it was a lot easier for girls to safely book dates and screen. After Backpage got taken down, after Craigslist personals got taken down, there was a local agency that kind of took over and had a monopoly on escorting in this town. I would say it was a lot harder for girls to post an ad and successfully book a date because this agency had so much money that they were able to pay to get their ads reposted every hour and push everyone else’s ads out. It’s still like that today. So as an independent escort in this town it’s very difficult when you are trying to safely book calls online, and not everyone has the privilege of setting up their website or their screening process. I would have to look at the statistics of assault and violence post–SESTA-FOSTA in my city, but I do think that because girls weren’t able to post ads as they could before… When I say girls I don’t mean to exclude people who do not identify as girls, it’s just my community is mostly female sex workers…

SESTA FOSTA took away a lot of agency and placed more marginalized populations at risk. It’s terrible and we’re still seeing the effect today.

It’s a lot harder to safely book dates when you don’t have those sites available to you anymore. A lot of girls who were working inside before were walking the track, booking car dates, or went back to someone else handling their bookings to make money, like that agency. I know of workers who went back to their pimps because they weren’t able to book calls on their own anymore. SESTA-FOSTA took away a lot of agency and placed more marginalized populations at risk. It’s terrible, and we’re still seeing the effect today. If you still can’t use any more of those websites and you’re still working outside, you’re more prone to getting sick, to getting attacked. You’re more prone to getting arrested, you’re more prone to [being] assaulted by the police. In my work with SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Project) and doing outreach, every single street-based worker I spoke to has gotten assaulted by police. Every single one.

N: Wow, really?! That isn’t the first time I heard that. 

J: It’s incredibly frustrating — on the one hand with BLM being the civil rights movement of this year, a lot of people have opened their eyes to police brutality, but at the same time when it comes to sex work a lot of people are still… are still in the dark about decriminalization, the reality of life as a street-based worker. I think a lot of people would ask street-based workers if they are assaulted why don’t they just call the police. When it comes to racism and police brutality, unwanted pregnancy, or assaults — not so pretty details of how girls live on the street — they don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to deal with it. It’s uncomfortable and it’s traumatizing to discuss. It’s also frustrating to get people to understand.

Police are not safe for sex workers.

At SWOP we have had multiple meetings at the mayor’s office trying to get shelters in place or more resources for street-based workers. We’re at a standstill. They’re forcing us to collaborate with police directly, like they wanted us to work with police doing outreach. Which is like the equivalent of saying, here, go out with your abusers. It’s completely out of touch and fucking ridiculous. It’s frustrating with this work at this time and trying to educate people about the reality of how stressful it is out there. 

In terms of Pornhub, from what I understand — there are different opinions from different sex workers — they do a decent job of keeping off CSAM [child sexually abusive material] and trafficking survivors. I’ve also heard the opposite — there is a lot of stolen content out there, that it was almost impossible to get your content to be taken down. My main thing with Pornhub is they could’ve taken a lot more accountability before — they only did this blanket move of ripping out unverified content because Visa and Mastercard broke up with them. It comes back down to capitalism messing with their bag. At the end of the day, sex workers are the ones who get punished — instead of action being taken against child abuse and trafficking videos that are up there. [As to why Visa and Mastercard pulled out], I think it was in the New York Times.

N: Yep, that article with a man centering himself into all of that. 

J: This wasn’t news to anyone. Pornhub had an option a long time ago to make a serious effort and doing a better job, but then with Visa and Mastercard pulling out of everything, they just ended up punishing everyone who tried to make a living on that site. I know Pornhub did donate a bunch of money to SWOP — 

N: I remember that, for being called out for the umpteenth amount of times.

J: Yup! Pornhub is shitty and it’s kind of too little too late, our SWOP Chapter got like $500 to buy supplies to make hygiene kits. If they want to give their money to sex workers, I won’t complain about it either. 

N: That’s real, anything you want to add? 

J: Yes. Decriminalize. And end violence against sex workers. 

Learn more about SWOP USA and consider donating to a local chapter here.