On Friday, the United States Senate passed a bill that makes it possible for websites that promote or even discuss adult work in a non-negative could be criminally prosecuted – up to 25 years in prison.
The SESTA / FOSTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act / Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) bill “subjects websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully” regarding “promoting or facilitating prostitution” even in comments of forum sections. The law is so vaguely worded that even talking about adult work in a non-negative way can be interpreted as promotion, and be subject to criminal prosecution.
This led Craigslist to take down their “Personals” section, and Reddit to remove its forums related to adult work – which were almost entirely used for workers to exchange advice and answer questions rather than sell or solicit services. Google Drive has frozen the accounts of many adult workers and porn performers, who can no longer access their own content (photos, videos, and even marketing materials) stored on the site. It has been rumored that websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WordPress will be removing adult content entirely from their platforms, including the accounts of performers, even when there is no X-rated content shared, to prevent criminal liability for any services offered.
This is a heartbreaking step back for sex workers’ rights, who need online spaces to get access to safety advice and supportive community (which was already at a bare minimum). With this law, sex work will be forced even further underground, with less ability for workers to share essential safety information, like client reviews and safety tips. The law also hurts the exact group it claims to protect – sex trafficking victims – by removing essential online “paper trails” that law enforcement agencies use to find trafficking victims and organizations.
The law also has a huge impact on the adult industry, as many porn performers are also sex workers. As performers’ websites, Google drives, Twitter accounts, and other promotional outlets are shut down, they will have a very limited ability to promote their work to clients. With limited ability to promote their work, there will be reduced income for performers, so less incentive to continue to create content. It’s questionable if the adult industry would even be able to survive without going underground or being outsourced to other countries.
The law also has far-reaching consequences well beyond the adult industry. It is a clear violation of free speech and freedom of the press that will impact how we use the internet as a whole. Websites that share or have shared any about sex work (like advice or resources) in the past could be subject to prosecution. Any website with user-generated content – like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Craigslist, or Wikipedia – could now be subject to major federal crimes by allowing user-generated content to simply exist on the site. Content on these outlets would have to be heavily moderated before going live, to ensure that nothing could be interpreted as promoting sex work. Millions of pieces of data per day – photos, videos, comments, posts, literally anything uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, et cetera – would need moderation in real time, placing a huge burden on websites to hire teams of moderators to ensure user comments and posts are up to standard before publication. We already know how long it takes websites to act on content reported after publication. Imagine how long it will take content to even get published in the first place if every single piece of media needs to be approved.
You can literally teach people how to build a bomb on the internet, but you can’t talk about exchanging sexual services for money.
This isn’t just an attack on sex work, sex workers’ safety, and people’s agency to do what they want with their bodies. It’s an attack on anyone speaking openly and honestly about their sexual experiences without fear. It’s an attack the press’s ability to offer non-judgmental information, support, and community to those in need. Fundamentally, it’s an attack on our ability to have control over our bodies and expression in public spaces.
We deserve to have agency over our lives and bodies. We deserve to have our voices and experiences heard. And we deserve to have representatives that have compassion for our experiences, rather than seek to punish and prosecute consenting behavior between adults. And we deserve to have press outlets shed light on people’s experiences and websites create community without fearing criminal prosecution.
We are working to get more information to you about this bill and how it will impact adult workers, the adult industry, and consumers. We are also working with our network to highlight the voices of those most impacted by this bill. We will post an update as soon as we have more information!