Statement in Solidarity with Sex Workers Targeted by the FOSTA/SESTA Bills
Bills recently passed by the US Congress—the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA) in the House and the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (SESTA) in the Senate—are a dangerous enactment of patriarchy to drive sex workers into the shadows and prevent them from organizing to improve their working conditions. These Orwellian-named bills represent a continuation of a dangerous authoritarian slide in the United States. As usual, the state has decided to “fix” a problem by targeting a vulnerable population, in this case sex workers.
Conflating human trafficking with consensual sex work is factually incorrect and an insult to sex workers who choose sex work. This is a cynical use of the issue of human trafficking to moralize about how individuals use their bodies to make a living and does little to stop actual human trafficking.
As socialists, we believe that workers must have the power and resources they need to organize and protect themselves. This bill strips sex workers of that power and those resources.
As feminists, we support the rights of all people to have control of their own bodies and sexuality, and we oppose the control over and coercion of physical bodies that patriarchy has historically imposed upon women and queer people in particular. This bill strips sex workers of all genders and identities of tools they need to exert control over their bodies and sexuality.
The services targeted for elimination by these bills have significantly improved safety for sex workers, and have a huge impact on patriarchal violence overall. One study found that Craigslist Erotic Services—a section which has already disappeared—reduced the female homicide rate by 17.4%. Under decriminalization in Rhode Island from 2003 to 2009, gonorrhea went down 40% and rape went down 30% in the state. Contrary to their stated intent, these bills will increase the dangers women face from patriarchal violence by eliminating services that allow sex workers, a vulnerable population of predominantly women, to protect themselves. These bills are an expression of patriarchy, which opposes women taking responsibility for their own bodies, their own safety, and their own livelihoods. We reject patriarchy categorically, and we support sex workers’ rights to choose sex work without shame or judgment.
FOSTA/SESTA also does severe damage to freedom of speech and expression online. This bill will induce websites and ISPs to further monitor and censor their users to protect themselves from government reprisal under this law. This censorship will certainly apply to sex workers, but may also be applied to activists who post information to provide sex workers with resources on how to organize, receive healthcare, or share information about predatory clients. The monitoring that this censorship will require poses a threat to all internet users and is likely to chill speech on the internet across the board. As libertarian socialists, we believe freedom in general and freedom of expression in particular are foundational to any society we’d want to bring into being, and thus oppose this heinous attack on Internet freedom.
We stand in solidarity with sex workers targeted by the FOSTA/SESTA bills. These bills are a craven act of patriarchal state violence aimed at taking away resources used by sex workers to screen clients for their own safety and make a living under capitalism. Our vision of socialism is of a society which makes sex work as safe as wage labor can be until wage labor is abolished, and which categorically rejects patriarchal viewpoints that cast shame or judgement on such work. We recognize that struggles against capitalism and patriarchy are interwoven and cannot be separated from each other or from other struggles against coercive hierarchies.