Read more on AIDSUnited.org
The Senate is scheduled to vote next week on the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), the Allow States and Victims to the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), or another similar iteration of the legislation, as early as Monday. Both SESTA and FOSTA legislation would extend criminal and civil liability to online platforms for posts about sex trafficking and sex work.
Facing huge new liabilities, the law could lead to platforms over-censoring user generated content or shuttering completely. Losing access to online platforms may mean that sex workers could no longer be able to screen clients for safety, negotiate boundaries such as condom use, and work in physically safer spaces. Harm reduction and anti-trafficking websites that offer safety and health information and that form online communities, which address social isolation, stigma, and discrimination, are also at risk of censorship and forced closure.
U.S. sex workers bear a high burden of HIV: Though the data is imperfect, the combined estimated HIV prevalence among U.S. female sex workers across 14 studies was 17.3%. Sex workers are more vulnerable to HIV due to large numbers of sex partners, unsafe working conditions, difficulty negotiating condom use, social stigma and discrimination, and criminalized work environments. These HIV risks are exacerbated for people who use drugs, LGBTQ people and people of color, who are more likely to be affected by the criminalization of sex work and are overrepresented in the criminal legal system in general.
When internet sites shut down in the recent past, sex workers have had to find clients on the street. Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Sacramento found that over 10,000 workers in California posted ads each day on Redbook, until it was shut down in 2014. A needs analysis in 2015 found an 18 percent increase in Sacramento-based street work and more unprotected sex.
Street-based sex work is more dangerous for sex workers and harm reduction organizations. Police often confiscate condoms as evidence to support prostitution charges, and outreach workers also may face criminal charges for distributing condoms. This practice has been documented in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, San Francisco, and New York (though it was banned there in 2014).