U.K. Pushing New FOSTA Copycat Law to Force Sex Workers Offline

A member of the British parliament from the country’s left-wing Labor Party says that she sees the “irony” in pushing for a new law inspired by a United States law measure signed and backed by Donald Trump, but Sarah Champion—the 48-year-old Shadow Minister of State in Britain’s leading opposition party—is going ahead with her move for Britain to adopt a copycat version of FOSTA anyway.

FOSTA is the law passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this year and signed by Trump into law in April. The bill’s stated aim is to curtail online sex trafficking, in part by making internet platforms such as Twitter or Craigslist responsible for the activities of their users on the site.

Critics of the law, including sex workers who engage in the business voluntarily, say that it not only leads to internet censorship, but has already forced them out of the daylight of the internet and its global exposure, into the dark and back onto the streets, posing a safety risk making them more vulnerable to pimps and other sexual predators.

Nonetheless, Champion is leading a group of Labor and Conservative Tory Party MPs in a new coalition the have dubbed the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade, or APPG, the tech news site EndGadget reported. Last Wednesday, Champion’s group led a parliamentary debate on the possibility of criminalizing sites that “facilitate the sexual exploitation of women and girls.”

“U.K. legislation needs to be radically overhauled to keep pace with the changing face of prostitution,” Champion told The Guardian newspaper. “We need to update our laws to make websites legally accountable for facilitating and profiting from sexual exploitation. The idea that commercial prostitution sites make it safer for women is not true.”

But according to many sex workers themselves, it is true. According to a report by the tech news site Motherboard in April, almost immediately after Trump signed the FOSTA law, sex workers began to suffer the consequences.

“Pimps seem to be coming out of the woodwork since this all happened,” Laura LeMoon, a sex trafficking survivor and activist told the site. “They’re taking advantage of the situation sex workers are in. This is why I say FOSTA/SESTA have actually increased trafficking. I’ve had pimps contacting me. They’re leeches. They make money off of [sex workers’] misfortune.”

The proposed new ban would target sites including Vivastreet and Adultwork, “two of the largest sex work platforms used in the UK,” according to the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, which also noted that a recent APPG report on the proposals specifically excluded evidence from actual sex workers.

Sex worker advocacy group The English Collective of Prostitutes published a statement opposing the planned FOSTA-style legislation last week, saying, “If we can’t advertise online and work independently many of us would be forced to work in other ways including on the streets where it is much more dangerous to work. Or we will be pushed into the hands of exploitative brothel bosses who would know we have little or no alternative to accept whatever conditions of work they impose on us.”

Chris McAndrew / Wikimedia Commons