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For sex workers, watching websites serving as their main source for work close because of government action is nothing new. Last year, online marketplace shuttered its adult services section, citing “new government tactics” as the impetus for the decision. In the federal government’s view, these “tactics”—which included pressuring credit card companies to sever ties with Backpage—were necessary in order to shut down online vehicles for sex traffickers to prey on children and girls.

But what’s happened in the last week has been nothing short of disturbing for those in the sex work industry. In March, the U.S. Senate passed S 1693, better known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA)—a controversial piece of legislation that broadly expands prosecutorial power over tech companies often used by sex workers for their business. The bill amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act so that websites and social media platforms are now held accountable for third-party activity related to sex trafficking or prostitution, thus conflating consensual sex work with criminal acts.

In other words: SESTA, and its counterpart in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), treats tech platforms as publishers of user-generated content, rather than hosts of that content. Sex workers and other activists had warned of the bills’ effects before they passed: Before President Donald Trump could even sign the legislation into law, tech platforms have made preemptive moves to get ahead of it. Shortly after it passed through Congress, Craigslist shut down its personals section, and Reddit removed several subreddits related to sex work.

“It was very disheartening to see how fast different websites and platforms were self-censoring before it’s even become a law,” Maxine Holloway, a Bay Area sex worker, activist, sex educator, artist, and filmmaker, told Rewire.News.


Annamarya Scaccia is an independent journalist who has reported extensively on law and policy, domestic violence, sexual violence, reproductive and sexual health, transgender issues, and disability among other rousing topics.