CYBERSPACE—Since April, when Donald Trump signed into effect the new law known as FOSTA, supposedly designed to curb online sex trafficking, sex workers have taken an increasingly public stance in their opposition to the law—while law enforcement officials are starting to grumble that the law is having the opposite effect from what it was drawn up to do.
Even as the United States Senate debated the FOSTA bill in March, before passing it by an overwhelming 97-2 ballot, one of the two dissenting senators echoed warnings that the sex work community, as well as online civil liberties activists, had been making since the bill was introduced.
“The failure to understand the technological side effects of this bill—specifically that it will become harder to expose sex-traffickers, while hamstringing innovation—will be something that this Congress will regret,” Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden said at the time.
According to the technology site TechDirt, the predictions of Wyden and other critics of the law are already coming true, as FOSTA has forced sex workers off the internet and back onto the streets—and police say that their efforts to track and apprehend the dangerous pimps and traffickers who exploit sex workers have taken a setback.
In fact, according to a lengthy report by WRTV in Indianapolis, police in that city have found themselves “running blind” since the shutdown of classified ad site Backpage.com where sex traffickers often posted their advertisements, allowing law enforcement to easily track them down.
Backpage was shut down by the government days before Trump signed the FOSTA law into effect, but the site served as the main inspiration for the law which in many ways seemed to target only that single site.
“With Backpage, we would subpoena the ads and it would tell a lot of the story,” Indy vice cop John Daggy told the station. “Also, with the ads we would catch our victim at a hotel room, which would give us a crime scene. There’s a ton of evidence at a crime scene. Now, since [Backpage] has gone down, we’re getting late reports of them and we don’t have much to go by.”
As evidenced by the one-sided passage of the bill in the Senate and earlier in a 388-25 House vote, few politicians in either party—and few members of the public—have much appetite for opposing a law ostensibly aimed at preventing sex trafficking, particularly when children are involved, though the text of the law never mentions underage sex trafficking specifically.
As a result, sex workers have adopted a far more public stance, and in June a group of 60 participated in an AMA—that is, “Ask Me Anything”—on the popular internet forum Reddit, in which they gave insights into their personal lives, as well as the requirements of their job.
"Sex work is work, and it’s service industry work. Pretending that it’s inherently different than other service industry work for any other reason than the fact that it’s stigmatized is buying into the belief that sex is uniquely special to women and has a unique moral impact on our worth,” said “Red” in the AMA thread.
“Right now some guy is telling me how different and special sex is than waiting tables, all because it involves genitals,” she said. “It’s not different. It’s not more special. My value and integrity is not located in my genitals any more than it is in my hands when I changed diapers."
Read the entire Reddit sex worker AMA at this link.
Office of Congresswoman Ann Wagner / Wikimedia Commons