On Wednesday, organizers of the largest U.S. conference for sex workers and sex workers’ rights activists released a statement canceling their 2019 Desiree Conference.
“Due to FOSTA-SESTA enactments, our leadership made the decision that we cannot put our organization and our attendees at risk,” Cris Sardina, director of the Desiree Alliance, said in the statement on its website. The five-day conference, which had been planned in Las Vegas, was titled “Transcending Boundaries: Immigration, Migration, and Sex Work.” However, under the new law FOSTA-SESTA—which claims its intent is to prevent “sex trafficking” but mostly just cracks down on consensual sex work—resources for sex workers can also be held liable for trafficking, even if their goal is to prevent such exploitation.
The much-needed focus on immigration could also draw unwanted attention to conference-goers. With increased arrests and detentions by ICE in the Trump era, sometimes even carried out against legal residents, the conference could be a dangerous environment for sex workers to gather. “Even something as simple as hotel hospitality potentially alerting local police to suspicious people or behavior could put a group of 500 activists and sex works at major risk,” Sardina said in an interview with Motherboard.
Since FOSTA was signed into law in early April, the Desiree Alliance has made changes to its website and social media to protect itself from legal action. Even though their goal is to empower sex workers, thereby making them less vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, the legal reach of FOSTA is broad enough to put them at risk of being charged with pimping or intent to traffic.
In spite of ever-growing legal boundaries, the Desiree Alliance will continue to fight for sex workers. Their smaller summits and private meetings will go on as planned. They also have plans to meet with the ACLU next week to discuss how they can work together to fight FOSTA-SESTA in the future. In the statement on the website, Sardina encourages people to “continue to resist every law that exists to harm sex workers! Keep fighting!”
The Daily Dot reached out to the Desiree Alliance for comment and will update if they reply.