FOSTA-SESTA: An Open Threat to LGBTQ Survival Sex Work and LGBTQ People Who Depend On It
On April 11, 2018 Donald Trump signed the controversial FOSTA-SESTA bill into law. The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) are two combined U.S. Senate and House bills that, now signed into law, are great cause for alarm in the sex workers’ and LGBTQ rights movements.
Veiled as an anti-sex trafficking policy, the new law makes third party websites liable for their users’ speech and creates barriers to sex work. This law will have drastic negative effects on the safety and survival of sex workers, thus impacting people in the LGBTQ community who rely on this work for basic survival. Sex work is often used as financial support for individuals who may otherwise have no other safe option for income. LGBTQ healthcare providers and advocates recognize that human trafficking requires advocacy and creates great harm through a non-consensual and inhumane sex economy. However it is important to distinguish trafficking from consensual survival sex work and place responsibility where it belongs.
FOSTA-SESTA is rooted in systemic racism and homophobia, and ignores the institutional barriers to resources and support systems that drive many LGBTQ people and/or people of color to engage in sex work. Even more, FOSTA-SESTA directly attacks sex workers who use sites such as Craigslist and Back Page as a platform that allows them to be in control of their own work and safety.
This law limits the use of the internet by low income people of color and LGBTQ people who rely on the internet to survive. Frequently, sex work is a last resort for many people who have been pushed out of schools, are experiencing homelessness, have been incarcerated, or are otherwise left with few options for sustainable income. Instead of combating these issues, this law exacerbates them by stigmatizing sex workers and conflating sex trafficking—an industry of non-consensual human trafficking and exploitation—with sex work, or consensual sex provided by an individual with personal agency. Paradoxically, this will leave sex workers more vulnerable to traffickers and pimps by stripping away the tools they use to be in control of their safety and well-being.
Additionally, LGBTQ young people experience a high degree of homelessness, and rely on sex work and the street economy in order to survive housing instability, family isolation, and poverty. FOSTA-SESTA will effectively push them back onto the streets where they will inevitably face incarceration, violence and unsafe barriers. Howard Brown Health denounces FOSTA-SESTA and supports sex workers’ rights and desire for safe, consensual sexual health.
Howard Brown Health supports everyone’s access to sexual health information and services! If you are participating in the sex economy and seek affirming and affordable healthcare and mental health services, you can access: in.power* our sexual harm response program, mental health advocates, case management and our Sexual Health Walk-in Clinic.