Sex workers have won the support of a small group of Democratic lawmakers after being largely excluded from the policy-making process.
The turning point was the Combating Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), also known as SESTA after the original Senate bill, which was conceived as a way to punish online platforms facilitating trafficking and abuse, but was widely opposed by the very industry for which it was intended. help.
Despite the best efforts of sex workers to deter lawmakers, the bill was easily passed by both houses and was signed at that time.President TrumpDonald TrumpBarbra Streisand: Republicans ‘Want Authoritarian State’ DOJ Adds Four Defendants to Oath Keepers Conspiracy Case JD Vance Appears as Wildcard in Ohio Senate Primary GOP PLUS in 2018.
“It’s not just that their point of view has been dismissed. Their point of view was not even heard. They were considered almost untouchable on Capitol Hill, ”said Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSex workers gain a foothold in Congress House GOP fights mask, metal detector fines Hillicon Valley: Facebook to take back some political donations | Microsoft Says Russian Hackers Used USAID Mail System to Target Other Groups | Senate Confirms Biden’s Top Scientist READ MORE (D-Calif.), Which is lobbying for a bill to study the effects of FOSTA-SESTA.
Sex worker organizations and congressional staff members who spoke to The Hill said stigma was one of the main factors keeping these voices on the sidelines.
“No politician wants or until very recently wanted to be seen as facilitating sex work or encouraging sex work,” said Mike Stabile, director of public affairs for the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult industry.
Khanna told The Hill that her colleagues “didn’t even want to have meetings because of the pictures or possible photos” with sex workers that could have been taken.
Stigma also hurts funding for organizations because consumers of pornography are “embarrassed” to support them publicly, says sex worker and writer Cathy Reisenwitz.
Restricted funds have left sex worker organizations with minimal ability to lobby lawmakers on the ground in Washington.
“There are no lobbyists. … There are more people committing to federal legislation, but we’re still working with the pin and the duct tape here, ”said Kate D’Adamo, sex worker rights activist and partner of Reframe Health and Justice. Hill.
Some organizations have reduced their efforts to sympathetic lawmakers to make up for the lack of resources.
Mary Moody, founding board member of the Association of Adult Industry Workers and Artists, met with the senator. Elizabeth warrenElizabeth Warren Sex workers gain a foothold in Congress The health of our communities is non-negotiable Senate collapse reveals growing partisan divide‘s (D-Mass.) earlier this year. The Massachusetts lawmaker is the Senate leader on the FOSTA-SESTA study bill and has met with sex worker groups in the past.
“We were able to discuss issues impacting workers, how legislation around section 230 and like SESTA-FOSTA can cause harm and ask them to commit to maintaining an open line of communication on future issues. Moody told The Hill, referring to the 1996 law which protects online platforms from liability for content posted by third parties.
Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSex workers gain a foothold in Congress Senate reaches deal to leave town after committee vote Jan 6 Tech industry groups sue Florida over new social media law KNOW MORE (D-Ore.) Also became more aware of the concerns of sex workers during the FOSTA-SESTA debate and has remained in contact with organizations since.
“Sex workers find themselves at the intersection of many important, but extremely difficult, questions regarding law enforcement, sex, race and speech,” he said in a statement. “When Congress formulates policy that affects any of these concerns, it would be professional misconduct not to take their voice into consideration.”
The sex worker community has been particularly vocal on Internet regulation proposals, especially since many of them had to rely on online income streams during the pandemic. FOSTA-SESTA has made an exception in section 230, a mechanism borrowed by several recent bills.
Advocates put in hours of outreach last year to try to slow down the EARN IT Act, a bill championed by the Senses. Lindsey grahamLindsey Olin GrahamSex workers gain a foothold in Trump Congress, midterms fuel GOP effort to quash Jan 6 commission Killed Capitol Police mother urges GOP senators to support Jan 6 commission MORE (RS.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Who would make exceptions under section 230 protections for child sexual abuse material.
Fearful that the threat of lawsuits would deter platforms from hosting adult content, they worked to get lawmakers and experts to address the root causes of exploitation such as inadequate health services and poor health. excessive criminalization, according to D’Adamo.
Sex workers also organized earlier this year against Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert Warner Sex workers gain a foothold in Congress New Russian hacks trigger calls for tougher Biden actions Extraordinary explanations for UFOs seem increasingly plausible READ MORESAFE TECH Act of (D-Va.) For fear that this will lead platforms to censor their content.
Adult industry organizations are also active at the state level and have seen some recent success.
Maxine Doogan, a working prostitute, started the Sex Workers and Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project in California in 2008 after a failed San Francisco election measure to decriminalize prostitution .
The group has since successfully blocked several voting initiatives in California and lobbied for reforms in other states such as Alaska, which passed a measure in 2017 that grants immunity to sex workers who report abuse. dangerous crimes to be cited for prostitution.
One of the obstacles for sex workers, both in the states and at the federal level, has been a fundraising organization, including the anti-trafficking group Exodus Cry and the formerly known National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE). under the name of Morality in Media.
These groups, according to sex workers who spoke to The Hill, overestimate the risk of trafficking and use that sentiment as a weapon to demonize and threaten the porn industry.
“Their approach, which has been very successful, has been to oversimplify and exaggerate the scale of the problem,” added Jeremy Malcolm, executive director of the Prostasia Foundation, which seeks to take an evidence-based approach. to reduce the harms of sex. traffic.
The groups were also successful in raising funds – the Justice Department gave NCOSE a $ 240,000 grant in 2020 to research the sex trade – and influence Congress.
For example, Laila Mickelwait, the founder of the Exodus Cry-backed campaign to shut down Pornhub, Traffickinghub, appeared before the House financial services committee earlier this year.
Meaning. Jeff merkleyJeff MerkleySex workers gain a foothold in Congressional Democrats to introduce bill to prevent recurring political donations by default Democrats: Roe’s coup against Wade would fuel Supreme Court expansion READ MORE (D-Ore.) And Ben sasseBen SasseSex workers gain a foothold in Colorado Democratic Congress: Fear of Trump, desire for power ‘trumps’ patriotism in some Republicans Republican House of Republicans says DOJ should investigate Jan.6 and not on a “ politically appointed ” commission READ MORE (R-Neb.) Cited reports relying heavily on the campaign when the Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act was introduced, which sex workers say could be the death knell for their industry.
To counter these forces and stabilize the place of the adult industry in Congress, it will take more time and work from sex workers, their organizations and the small cadre of lawmakers in their corner.
Khanna told The Hill that part of this process is to pass the FOSTA-SESTA study bill, on which these lawmakers are trying to convince key colleagues before reintroducing it in Congress.
“We need the study in the bill,” he said. “But the problem is to overcome the stigma, it is to make the voices of people who are on the margins of society heard. Legislation is just one way of trying to get there. “