‘FOSTA will make our lives exponentially more dangerous under the pretense of protecting us.’
In n 2011, New York City law enforcement officials were able to lure a serial rapist to a hotel room and successfully arrest him—all as a result of sex worker efforts. His phone number had circulated through a community of sex workers and escort agencies as part of a “Bad Date List”—jargon for the network sex workers use to pass along information, flag dangerous clients, and share the phone numbers that should never be answered.
Whether they utilize Facebook groups, other online forums, or even text group chats, sex workers’ ability to communicate with one another and screen potential clients is one of the only security mechanisms available to them — and one that will be further compromised, with assuredly fatal consequences, if the supposed anti-trafficking bill, FOSTA, passes the Senate this week.
The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)—a companion bill to SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act introduced by Ohio senator Rob Portman last April—passed 388–25 by the House of Representatives on February 28th. The bill, introduced by Republican representative Ann Wagner—in theory at least—seeks to fight sex trafficking by targeting online websites and platforms “that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and contribute to sex trafficking.”
The reality, however, according to the bill’s critics, is that the proposed legislation will only hurt consensual sex workers and encourage internet censorship—rather than prevent sex trafficking or support its survivors. Many pro-free speech and sex worker advocacy groups, such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Sex Workers Outreach Project, all oppose the bill.
Per FOSTA, those who run platforms determined by authorities to be promoting sex trafficking would not only face up to 10 years in prison, but would be liable for lawsuits—both repercussions that effectively encourage platforms to delete any user content that could in any way be construed as promoting sex work.