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When the SESTA-FOSTA bills were being hashed out in Congress, sex workers loudly advocated against them, saying that rather than decrease sex trafficking, these laws would make it more likely. According to new police statistics, they were right.
The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act was signed into law by President Trump in April of 2018 and within a week, the effects were being felt across the internet. Although the purported goal of the SESTA-FOSTA bills was to reduce sex trafficking, there wasn’t much of a distinction between sex work and sex trafficking in their definition, and the law targets sites and people that facilitate any kind of sex work.
Under the law, sites that benefit from “participating in a venture” that supports or facilitates sex trafficking could be prosecuted by the federal government. Even before the bill became law, Craigslist closed its personals section and Reddit shut down a number of sex-work-related subreddits, both citing the new law.
Most devastatingly, sites like Backpage, which sex workers used to find and vet clients, were shut down. Although even Democrats like Sen. Kamala Harris called Backpage a “sex trafficking platform,” sex workers argued that it actually protected them from trafficking by giving them more control over their work and client base.
New statistics shared by the San Francisco police show that sex workers, unsurprisingly, were right about the effect this law would have on their profession and on sex trafficking. According to KPIX 5, while most violent crime is down in San Francisco, sex trafficking shot up 170 percent in 2018.
Pike Long, deputy director of St. James Infirmary, a peer-based clinic for sex-workers, explained how the disappearance of sites for sex workers had led to this increase. “It has suddenly re-empowered this whole underclass of pimps and exploiters,” Long said to KPIX 5. She estimated the number of street-based sex workers had tripled, and noted that this kind of sex work is much more vulnerable to exploitation.
“If you are a street-based sex worker, it’s much harder to negotiate your rates, to negotiate safer sex condom use, to make sure that this person who is picking you up in a car doesn’t have a knife or a gun,” said Long.
H/T KPIX 5
Alex Dalbey is a writer and zinester currently living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They have written for The Daily Dot, Kill Screen, The Lingerie Addict, and Bullet Points.