SESTA is Yet Another Bill Which Will Harm Sex Workers
SESTA is just another extension of government abuse, not only of sex workers, but of the American people in general.
Sex worker Armageddon is upon us. At least that’s how it has felt since the Backpage censorship incident, a campaign spearheaded by Black liberal fave and 2020 presidential candidate, Kamala Harris. FOSTA (H.R. 1865), also known as the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” was just given the green light by the House and the vote on SESTA is impending.
SESTA is a separate but related bill, introduced by Republican Representative Rob Portman. It amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This would allow the government to prosecute platforms and websites that are accused of facilitating sex trafficking. A full service sex worker relayed to me: “It’s actually become safer for full service sex workers to travel alone rather than with a partner. If two or more sex workers are present you can go to jail not just for prostitution, but for trafficking as well. They’ll claim you trafficked each other.” The language of both FOSTA and SESTA blurs the lines between coercion and choice, effectively blending the two. This is their end game.
Prohibition is nothing new, but people seem to be forgetting that when you subjugate one group of people, overall persecution of the wider population usually follows. We have witnessed this with the election of Donald Trump by white Americans. Many of the people who voted for Trump neglected to think about how his policies would affect them. They were so focused on their racism and on the continuation of BIPOC oppression, they didn’t realize that a lot of the Trump administration’s policies would negatively impact them as well.
SESTA is just another extension of government abuse, not only of sex workers, but of the American people in general. Because we live in a country where the majority of power and wealth is located in the hands of cis white men, anyone who is not that is at a disadvantage. Any fight, win, loss or stalemate for the liberation of oppressed peoples affects everyone. Our struggle is your struggle, because when the government enforces prohibitive laws that conflate independent autonomous labor with forced labor they are making it clear that this isn’t about sex trafficking or protecting human rights. It is about control.
I mentioned in a previous piece I wrote about how net neutrality might affect sex workers that: “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.”
I had an interesting online encounter with a well-known white sex worker, who attempted to school me on patriarchy and authoritarian governments. The argument was over the word “patriarchy.” Apparently my use of this word to describe the government we live in was viewed as “superfluous” and inaccurate—because women in government are totally screwing us too, right? While women in government care about sex workers and about sexual freedoms as much or as little as most men, they still make up a minority of government leaders (about 20%). Internalized sexism and misogynoir/-ny is not a new problem in American culture, and neither is Prohibition.
Educating ourselves, not only about decriminalization, but specifically about Black, Asian and other indigenous groups of sex workers and the injustices we face, is imperative. Absolving the detrimental impact of [white] men and systemic racism/classism/sexism/ableism in an attempt to demonize women like Kamala Harris serves no purpose other than to shift our focus. “But women do this too!” is a cry that solves nothing and helps no one, any more than a #NotAll does.
As a Black woman and sex worker, I do find it suspicious when white sex workers randomly bring up Kamala Harris by name as an issue, when this kind of censorship and persecution of sex workers and sexuality in general is not new. There is a time and place for individual critiques and debates over semantics. The FOSTA bill was filed by Republican Representative Ann Wagner and the SESTA bill was filed by Republican Representative Rob Portman. Both bills are cosponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, which shows us that liberals, centrists and conservatives are all invested in a repeal of freedom from Americans in general.
SESTA is up for vote on Monday, and right now it is imperative that we focus, not on individual politicians, but on the absolute fact that these bills will negatively impact sex workers income and freedoms, American freedom of expression and speech in general, and it will unfairly punish the most vulnerable of us: Black and indigenous sex workers of color, queer and trans sex workers, poor and disabled sex workers. In a country that has never been united in the first place, where does that leave us?
Call your Representatives and tell them to vote no on SESTA:
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