When the “allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” better known as FOSTA, passed the United States House of Representatives in February, only 24 reps voted against it, 14 Republicans and 11 Democrats. But if an insurgent but well-financed Democratic candidate in New York City succeeds in his bid to oust his longtime incumbent opponent, there will be one more voice of opposition to the law that sex workers say does little to curb illegal human trafficking—but has done a lot to make their own lives more dangerous.
Suraj Patel, a 34-year-old New York University business ethics professor and former Barack Obama campaign worker, will run against 72-year-old Democratic Party stalwart Carolyn Maloney, who has held a congressional seat since 1993, after serving on the New York City Council for a decade.
Maloney has a solid record of left-liberal voting in Congress. The site OnTheIssues.org, which uses empirical data to evaluate office-holders' political ideologies, rates Maloney a “hard core liberal,” with a voting record only slightly to the right of Bernie Sanders.
But Maloney took a strong stand in favor of FOSTA (for the record, Sanders also supported the Senate version of the bill), and that has alienated her from the sex worker community, according to New York sex worker-rights advocate Lola Balcon.
“[Maloney] has been sponsoring really bad anti-sex-work legislation for literally decades,” Balcon told the news and culture site The Verge. “This community has a lot of will toward voting her out.”
Though Patel initially took no position on the FOSTA law, after lobbying by Balcon and others he quickly formed a strong anti-FOSTA position—one that he spelled out to an approving crowd of about 200 New York sex workers and their supporters at a town hall meeting in Brooklyn recently.
Patel also made his views public in a blog post to the VICE-owned platform Broadly on May 21.
In the post, Patel slammed the combined FOSTA/SESTA law as “deeply irresponsible and dangerous,” saying, “SESTA/FOSTA has rolled back internet freedoms and inflicted deep damage on already-marginalized communities, putting lives at risk while setting the fight against trafficking back decades.”
Those words may be exactly what the sex worker community wants to hear, but even Patel is not their perfect candidate. The Indiana native—who has raised a whopping $1.2 million despite never previously holding or even running for public office—has yet to take a position on the decriminalization of sex work, leading one sex worker at the recent town hall to caution him, “What you’re saying right now, it’s great, and it’s awesome—and it’s just not enough. I need to know that you’re going to keep listening to us.”
The New York state congressional primary election is set for next Tuesday, June 26.
Photo by Fatsif / Wikimedia Commons