Yesterday’s vote for SESTA/FOSTA in the US Senate is a dark day for sex worker rights. The bill, which seeks to stop trafficking by limiting how and where people can discuss sex work, will, paradoxically, encourage trafficking, abuse and exploitation by pushing consensual sex work underground.
Over the past year, we’ve watched politicians, celebrities, pundits speak over, ignore, demean, dismiss and silence the voices of sex workers in pursuit of this bill. We’ve watched as so-called advocates willingly conflate the horrors of trafficking with consensual sex work. We’ve seen people question whether anyone can consent to sex work, and we’ve seen advertising platforms that work with law enforcement demonized or shut down for allowing any communication between providers.
But while those on Capitol Hill spun the lie that sex workers are voiceless, helpless and exploited, the workers themselves rose up. Sex workers, past and current, along with their allies and advocates, spread the word, corrected the media, came out to friends, bombarded Congress with phone calls, and fought to change the narrative online. The work they accomplished was astounding.
The battle may have been stacked against them, and centuries old stigma and fear are difficult to dislodge. But the power and movement was awe-inspiring. Many people, for the first time, heard arguments that challenged their preconceived notions about sex work. Many, for the first time, listened to the workers themselves. We are proud to have fought alongside them, and to have joined a brave chorus that included the the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, the Sex Workers Outreach Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy in Technology, the National Center on Transgender Equality, the ACLU and thousands of individual workers. We will fight with them again, and again, until a sex worker is allowed the same freedoms and rights as any other worker.
Now comes the difficult part. Already, platforms where sex workers communicate are being shut-down. Crucial information about worker safety, and resources, and rights is being lost or censored. Workers are being pushed into the shadows, where they face more dangerous working conditions, with fewer ways to protect themselves.
Over the coming weeks and months, and years, we will continue the fight, on the Capitol, in statehouses, at corporate boards, in courthouses, and in the public square. In the meantime, Free Speech Coalition will work to build resources, amplify voices, support legal challenges, and establish new networks. We can not give up, and we can not move on. Our workers lives depend on it.