We Need To Talk About How Dismantling Net Neutrality Could Impact Sex Workers
Even though we still experience criminalization and discrimination, the internet is a somewhat safe space for many of us, especially important if you are a full service sex worker.
In the wake of the FCC vote to repeal Net Neutrality, many of us are wondering where we go from here. Responses to this move range from a dismissive “it’s not that deep” tone to an Orwellian apocalyptic loss of everything that was once known, loved and free about the internet.
Surprisingly, though this has been framed by some as a Democrat vs. Republican debate, there are many Republicans in favor of Net Neutrality, including Senator Susan Collins, who was one of a few Republicans who asked that the vote be delayed and discussed properly. I am not going to recount the history or importance of Net Neutrality at length, because a quick Google search will grant you tons of information from either side of the argument. Instead I will be discussing my understanding of, not only Net Neutrality, but a couple other prohibitive measures that I have heard about through the internet grapevine, that directly/indirectly impact marginalized indie sex workers.
I live in the hood in a big city. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this. One pro is that I have lower rent. Cons: boarded up foreclosed homes and storefronts pepper my neighborhood. There is trash everywhere. Underemployed or unemployed young men wander and circle certain areas. And for some reason mail carriers half-ass deliver my mail over here. My quality of life is highly impacted by all of these things. Access to the internet also impacts my quality of life. For those of you who didn’t know, I am an indie artist, aspiring cartoonist, indie internet sex worker, single mother of one, and writer.
Everything I do to scratch out an income is done via the internet. My internet future is now precarious. In an age of district redlining, racist mortgage lenders, and internet prohibition, how will I manage without having to resort to hooking, moving back in with family, or working multiple jobs outside of the home to make ends meet? If the repeal of Net Neutrality is as dooming as it sounds, I have a hard road ahead of me as an indie worker.
For instance, what if companies decided to slow down service in areas like mine, with lower incomes and earning potential? They might decide that we don’t need access as much as wealthier neighborhoods. They might decide to charge for the internet the same way they do for cable TV, in packages that include what you want — but only if you upgrade to such and such a bundle and pay more. They might say they are offering a certain amount of speed, then turn right around and hamper it, with us never the wiser. Since I stream videos and cam for a living, I worry about the latter the most. How frustrating it would be if access to my personal website or camming webpage were slowed down to a trickle. How many customers I could lose over internet speed and the quality of the picture.
As an independent sex worker I have been feeling the burn of income instability for many years, as have many other workers. Most of us who have integrated the use of the internet into our work/production have migrated from platform to platform, never fully welcome on any of them. Many of us are openly denigrated for the use of applications such as Only Fans. Femmes of any gender are often derided on Twitter with the name of this app thrown in to highlight the supposed insignificance or triviality of what are mostly new and wannabe sex workers, to conduct business and interact with clients.
Even though we still experience criminalization and discrimination, the internet is a somewhat safe space for many of us, especially important if you are a full service sex worker. It allows us to set clear boundaries with clients and can increase our income potential depending on how well we wield our assets and market ourselves. We can spread out over a bunch of sites instead of just focusing on a singular profession and market (diversify our streams of income).
Escorts can receive money and book a variety of clients via their personal websites. They can also “verify” client’s identity for safety purposes. Dommes can receive tributes online with little to no hassle. But what happens to those of us who are still living in poverty and utilize the internet as a primary source of income when the FCC begins its rollback? I know at least a handful of disabled sex workers who work from home because it is the only way they can make enough money to survive and save for a future when they may need outside care. This intersects with homelessness, LGBTQ+ issues, and [child] poverty in America. Attempts to conflate sex trafficking and sex work obscures the true nature of some of the laws that are being drafted or proposed to “protect” women and children and at-risk youth.
“This bill amends the Communications Act of 1934 to specify that communications decency provisions protecting providers from liability for the private blocking or screening of offensive material shall not be construed to impair the enforcement of, or limit availability of victim restitution or civil remedies under, state or federal criminal or civil laws relating to sex trafficking of children or sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion.
The bill amends the federal criminal code to specify that the violation for benefiting from “participation in a venture” engaged in sex trafficking of children, or by force, fraud, or coercion, includes knowing conduct by any person or entity by any means that assists, supports, or facilitates the violation.”
Note that this is not a Republican or conservative issue, as many would assume. Cosponsors for the SESTA bill are at 54–32 Republicans and 22 Democrats. Note also that Senator Kamala Harris—who spent a good deal of time gunning for the destruction of Backpage—is one of the Democratic co-sponsors.
Poverty, LGBTQ identity, disability, etc. all make one highly vulnerable to being trafficked. The more unstable your home environment is, the more likely it is that you will end up being exploited for someone else’s financial or personal gain. However, instead of helping young children get help, these bills often target people like me — women and femmes or LGBTQ folks who are independent workers and consenting adults. I wonder why poverty is not at the top of the list of issues to discuss when these kinds of bills are proposed. Reducing poverty would definitely have a positive effect on many children’s lives. Alas, there is just too much money in “fighting sex trafficking,” and not enough in actually saving and investing financially in the lives of women and children, particularly Black and indigenous women, queer folk and children.
I am not entirely sure where we go from here. I only hope that most of the “end of the Internet” predictions don’t come true. However as part of a root system of intersecting marginalizations, I definitely am feeling a bit cynical about the future for indie [sex] workers amidst all of this political drama. Decriminalizing sex work (and certain other professions) and restructuring the government does not seem to be on the list for any political party. White [male] supremacy and lawmaking has proven to be quite effective at keeping us all right where they want us: obedient, frustrated, anxious and poor.