I recently made the documentary series In Conversation With Sex Workers (watch the whole series below) because I wanted to use my platform to help amplify sex worker’s voices, especially in light of President T**** signing FOSTA-SESTA into law in April.
Some of my amazing XConfessions performers Moth+Rust, Maria Riot and Dante Dionys spoke about their own experiences with coming out stories, social stigmas, relationships with clients, law enforcement and the relationship between sex work and feminism.
I wanted as many people as possible to see the series outside of my XConfessions subscribers so I put it on my Youtube channel for free. There was NO explicit content, NO sex, NO naked bodies, NO (female) nipples or anything else that breaks YouTube´s strict guidelines in the series. It was simply sex workers speaking about their work and experiences.
Maria Riot shared the videos on her social media account and within hours my Youtube account had been closed.
I already knew I couldn’t show sex on YouTube, but now I can’t even talk about sex, or maybe I should say sex work.
A few months ago, I received a message from an applicant to my open call for Guest Directors. He had posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a film crew in LA, and most specifically a female director for an adult film. The advert included a link to my site and it was removed multiple times. It was clear to me that things were changing online, and being banned from YouTube has confirmed my fears.
We are living in very uncertain times at the moment. FOSTA-SESTA is being portrayed as an anti-sex trafficking measure but it dangerously conflates sex trafficking with sex work and is actively putting sex workers lives at risk as well as threatening online speech.
The bill undermines Section 230 which is the most important law in protecting free speech online as it protects platforms from liability for some types of speech by their users. Without Section 230, social media wouldn’t exist in its current form, and neither would the community-based online groups that serve as outlets for free expression and knowledge sharing.
Now that websites are responsible they are being forced to censor and silence their users by removing any content that might make them liable.
The bill is worded so broadly that it expands prostitution law to cover those who use the internet to “promote or facilitate prostitution.” Because of it’s vague definition of this, websites like Craigslist have already chosen to remove their personals section rather than face liability. Sex related subreddits have vanished which were being used as forums for sex-work news, tips and questions. Other sites such as Instagram started removing hashtags, Backpage was seized by the FBI and shut down, and VerifyHim which maintained tools to help sex workers avoid abusive clients closed down its ‘Just For Safety’ resource.
Even Google Drive has started removing adult content from sex workers’ private accounts. They noticed when trying to send videos to clients who were then unable to view or download them. And in some cases their files were completely disappearing from their Drive account without warning or explanation.
And so, many sex workers have been forced off of the internet and onto the streets. Pimps are exploiting and abusing sex workers, and the more repulsive clients are using uncertainty to take advantage of workers who can’t use safe advertising.
Let’s be clear, FOSTA-SESTA is attacking free-speech rights online while at best doing nothing for trafficking victims, and quite likely making their lives worse. It pushes law enforcers to go after third party websites rather than focus on stopping traffickers or rescuing victims. Censoring these platforms also takes away an important resource for finding victims—the open internet. If traffickers were using these sites before, the bill has pushed them out of the spotlight and onto the dark web. Even the U.S. Department of Justice urged against passing FOSTA-SESTA, advising that it would make prosecuting sex traffickers harder.
And if that wasn’t enough, now the UK seems to be following the USA’s lead on FOSTA-SESTA. An all party parliamentary group, headed by Labour MP Sarah Champion, is calling for the creation of laws to criminalise websites used by sex workers in the UK, under the guise of fighting sex trafficking, of course.
After being told that their business A Four Chambered Heart couldn’t exist on Patreon anymore performer Vex Ashley said, “it’s a world wide crack down on freedom of expression, on women, on marginalised people, on sex and sex work, on non conventional forms of labour that counter the status quo: the domination of corporations and patriarchy. On dissent.” I couldn’t agree more.
But there is a glimmer of hope. The nonprofit organisation Electric Frontier Foundation, which strongly opposed the bill throughout the legislative process, is suing to invalidate FOSTA-SESTA. The EFF is challenging the law as a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments and are asking a court to declare it unconstitutional and prevent it from being enforced.
The EFF is acting on behalf of several groups; the nonprofit groups Human Rights Watch and Woodhull Freedom Foundation, non-sexual massage therapist Eric Koszyk, sex workers rights’ activist Jesse Maley, and the Internet Archive. And has stressed that FOSTA-SESTA “silences online speech by muzzling internet users and forcing online platforms to censor their users.” They are seeking an injunction by August 1st so that Woodhull can run its annual Sexual Freedom Summit without fear of prosecution.
There is also something fascinating about this. Trafficking is a huge problem in several industries such as farm work, labour and domestic work… but where are all the congressmen and MPs working on bills to end human trafficking in these industries? They’re not there because this is not, and never has been, about fighting sex trafficking or helping victims. This is about anti-sex workers’ rights politics censoring a speech that they don’t like and a profession that they don’t consider respectable and they profoundly disdain.
Case in point when Sarah Champion says “I fully respect [sex worker’s] right to protest and understand the issues that they’re raising. However, our focus has to be on the most vulnerable and exploited.” It makes it very clear to me that the politicians behind these bills do not care about sex worker’s lives. Has Sarah not been listening to all of the damage FOSTA-SESTA is inflicting upon the sex workers she is referring to and the lives that have been lost in the US?
For now, we need to show our support for all kinds of sex workers by listening to their stories and giving them a platform to speak, giving money and other resources to sex worker organisations, and spreading the word about EFF’s case against FOSTA-SESTA.
And, seeing as I can no longer host my doc-series on Youtube, you can watch every episode of In Conversation With Sex Workers on my platform. At least for now.
Stay tuned to the blog, I’ll be posting more updates on this issue and if you’re a sex worker that has been affected by FOSTA-SESTA please send me an email and I will make sure your story is told.