If you have not yet heard about Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), then I hope this piece will give you a general understanding of the current political climate regarding online marketing for sex work and how it is hurting sex workers. Those being impacted range from Dommes to escorts to porn actors- it is hurting everyone in the industry. These bills conflate sex trafficking with any kind of sex work and are touted as an effort to protect trafficked victims but in reality, they are a brutal attack on consensual sex workers and another nail in the coffin of our First and Fourth Amendment rights.
When President Trump signed the bills, he gave federal and state prosecutors greater power to pursue websites that host ads with any potential to aid sex trafficking. To sum it up: it makes websites liable for what users say and do on their platforms; these websites have in turn deleted or revoked certain parts of their sites or their entire platform. The bills undermine essential internet freedoms and go against our First Amendment rights. The consequences of this have not only affected sex workers’ freedom of speech but also sex workers’ Fourth Amendment rights, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Our online product is being shut down, revoked, and our electronic funds are being seized and frozen. We have no answers as to what the future holds for our online existence and businesses.
SESTA and FOSTA are just beginning to be put into action as they make their way through the legal system. At the moment, they are going after platforms, not individuals. The reason the ad sites and any hosting sites of online communication are rapidly revising their terms of service or are terminated (for now) is that they are scared that they could be liable for the behavior of its users. That’s right- if I meet you through a personals ad posted on Craigslist and we do something illegal, Craigslist is now liable, hence Craigslist no longer has a personals section. Even Twitter is worried about being liable. Their new terms of service states that, “we consider adult content to be any media that is pornographic and/or may be intended to cause sexual arousal.”
By removing our ad platforms, the government has forced trafficked and “survival” sex workers onto the street causing an increase in sex worker deaths and disappearances. Survival sex workers are those who have a decreased ability to say “no” due to desperation to cover basic needs like food, shelter, and feeding their children. They cannot afford the higher end ad sites that are hosted overseas. At least with initial engagements occurring online, these providers could do their due diligence to feel out and screen new clients, but on the streets, there is very little recourse when things don’t feel safe.
It seems like every day there are new bills, laws, amendments, interpretations, updated terms of service agreements, web hosts suddenly shutting down sex workers’ sites, social media banning accounts, and it just does not end. One provider even had her credit card account closed by a big bank due to using it to pay for her online advertising. Sex workers who get paid electronically for clips or porn are having their online assets seized or frozen. PayPal has always targeted sex workers and since PayPal owns Venmo, it is also not a safe option. Twitter and other social media sites have begun to censor or “shadow ban” all sex workers. Shadow banning, also called stealth banning, ghost banning or comment ghosting, is the act of blocking a user or their content from an online community such that the user does not realize that they have been banned- scary, right? If that is not considered a form of direct censorship, then I don’t know what is.
If you’re curious as to how you can stay up to date on these issues and help fight our regression into the dark ages, please visit the following websites and donate anything you can to organizations on the front lines of this fight against this insanity. This is not a comprehensive list of all the sites that are keeping us up to date, serving sex workers, and fighting for our rights, but here are some of them that have come to my attention:
- Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP)
- Red Light Legal
- St. James Infirmary
- EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
I hope this piece has educated those who have taken the time to read it and aided all my comrades in the fight for our rights. This piece is not the authority on the current state of sex work and the internet; I highly encourage all who are reading this to do their own research. You can read the bills causing this turmoil for yourself here:
Mistress Ramona Ryder
If you are a provider and/or educator who wishes to repost this piece, please ask permission by writing me at mistressramonaryder (at) protonmail (dot) ch.