This morning U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill called FOSTA (the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act”). This Trump FOSTA signing activates a federal law that enhances penalties and makes it easier to civilly or criminally prosecute websites caught “benefiting” or “participating in” anything that “supports” or “facilitates” “sex-trafficking,” wording so vague that various websites have shut down their personals and sex-discussion sections to avoid being prosecuted.
FOSTA’s provisions state that a website operator could go to prison for up to 10 years if any user of the site promotes or facilitates prostitution — even if that website operator had no idea what was going on, and even if it happened before the bill was passed.
Proponents of the bill say it will help prevent human trafficking, but that’s just not true, mostly because the bill attacks all sex workers, not just traffickers. In fact, FOSTA will put sex workers in harm’s way. In the past, sex workers have used the internet to provide safety training, to pass around advice for avoiding violent clients and to reach out for help when experiencing abuse.
But FOSTA makes it illegal for a website to allow those conversations to occur. That’s why many sites have pre-emptively removed forums where people might share safety advice that could save the lives of sex workers. Better to prevent a potentially infringing conversation than to take on the risk of allowing it.
Many experts, sex worker organizations, the Department of Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group called Survivors Against SESTA and gay porn star Connor Habib have all spoken out against the bill.
They worry that banking websites and fundraising websites (like OnlyFans) will shut down and sex workers on social media will get banned, severely hurting sex workers’ ability to survive financially and forcing them to return to pimps and an inability to weed out potentially violent clients online before meeting.
This is of particular concern to the LGBTQ community, since queer people are disproportionately likely to engage in survival sex work, and disproportionately affected by violent crime. As is often the case, women and minorities are likely to bear the worst consequences of the law.
Meanwhile, one group is asking sex workers to reveal any clients who happened to be U.S. Congressmen who voted for FOSTA, so they can be outed and shamed for trying to shut down the very thing they enjoy.