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News :: Human Rights
Internet Censorship Law Endangers Sex Workers (Workers Vanguard) 29 June 2018
10 Jul 2018
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Workers Vanguard Sex Workers 001.jpg

Workers Vanguard No. 1136
29 June 2018

Internet Censorship Law Endangers Sex Workers

Carrying signs reading "Sex Work ≠ Trafficking" and "Stigma Kills," large crowds of sex workers and their supporters gathered in New York, Oakland, Chicago and other cities across the country on June 2, dubbed "International Whores' Day." They were protesting a set of anti-sex bills that Donald Trump signed into law on April 11. The House version, "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" (FOSTA), and its Senate equivalent, SESTA, flew through Congress on bipartisan wings. Supporters of the law cynically claim the bill supports women's rights. In reality, the law further criminalizes consensual sexual activity and imposes government censorship of the internet by making internet service providers, social media and dating websites responsible for user-generated content (e.g., ads by escorts and massage parlors).

Once again, right-wing outfits--such as Expose Sex Ed Now, which is devoted to opposing sex education for minors, and the virulently anti-gay and anti-communist Institute on Religion and Democracy--and prominent liberal Democrats and anti-Trump "resisters" have joined hands in an unholy alliance to enhance the repressive machinery of the capitalist state. The bill was supported by "progressives" like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, feminist groups like the National Organization for Women, as well as pro-Democratic celebrities like Seth Meyers and Amy Schumer.

Nina Hartley, the porn star, sex educator and fighter for sexual freedom, got it exactly right when she told Workers Vanguard:

"SESTA-FOSTA are both anti-labor as well as anti-woman. Again, under the guise of 'helping victims of sex trafficking' women's choices regarding their bodily autonomy are under attack. Workers who had moved from the streets to indoors, who used the internet to screen clients, have been pushed back onto the streets, where pimps are again gaining the upper hand over workers."

Social scientists at Baylor and West Virginia universities published a 2017 study documenting that screening clients through Craigslist's erotic services reduced the risk of rape to female prostitutes, with the homicide rate dropping 17.4 percent. Now, the very basic safety precaution of screening clients has been taken away, forcing many back onto the streets to face homelessness, arrest, harassment, beatings or worse. One sex worker told WV that as soon as FOSTA-SESTA passed, the number of calls she received from pimps on her work phone dramatically increased. Under FOSTA-SESTA, immigrant sex workers, always under threat of deportation, are especially vulnerable. Many had used sites like Craigslist to advertise their services, either as individuals or through massage parlors, which allowed them a modicum of safety. Meanwhile, gay and trans prostitutes, who already risk lethal violence in this deeply bigoted country, will be further endangered.

People will die as a result of this law. A protester at the June 2 demonstration in Oakland noted, "My personal experience before I used the internet as a platform for sex work was getting assaulted constantly, getting kidnapped, getting raped, getting drugged." The protester's sign aptly read, "FOSTA SESTA Has a Body Count."

FOSTA-SESTA essentially nullifies Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That section, which is referred to as the "safe harbor" clause, ensured that, like a library, social media platforms, websites and internet service providers could publish or host material without being liable for its content. Most websites simply do not have the resources to handle potential lawsuits over any and every online posting, meaning that many platforms will likely heavily censor users or shut down entirely.

The repercussions of FOSTA-SESTA were felt before the ink on the new legislation was dry. In the lead-up to the legislation, the FBI seized B ack p age do t com, a site commonly used by sex workers to post ads and safely meet clients. The home of its cofounder Michael Lacey was raided, and he is now facing federal charges. Immediately after the bills were passed, Craigslist removed its entire personals section (including Missed Connections), and sites used by sex workers to post ads, like Night Shift and City vibe, shut down entirely. According to En gadget com, sites that facilitated safety in sex work have shut down their discussion boards, advertising boards and community forums. Microsoft, which owns Skype and Messenger, changed its policies to target "inappropriate" and "offensive" behavior.

The new law is part of a broader escalation of online censorship, often carried out under the guise of combating "fake news"--i.e., allowing the public to see only what the rulers and their media deem appropriate. Even before FOSTA-SESTA was signed into law, Facebook shut down about 500 accounts of Palestinian journalists and publications, including the Safa Palestinian Press Agency, a major news outlet. The capitalist rulers will seek to use their augmented repressive powers over the internet to silence leftists, anti-racist activists, labor organizers and anyone else the U.S. government deems a threat.

FOSTA-SESTA equates the fundamentally consensual act between a prostitute and a client to exchange money for sex with the horrific crime of forced sex trafficking. Proponents of the law pushed it by feeding hysteria over a supposed epidemic of young teens forced into the sex trade. Such lies are an old and tired trick used by the capitalist rulers to further expand their repressive powers. As we explained in "U.S./UN Crusade Against 'Sex Trafficking'" (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 58, Spring 2004):

"The atrocities that are still thriving worldwide in this reactionary social and economic climate include forced marriages, the buying and selling of children, forced segregation under the head-to-toe veil, female genital mutilation and 'honor killings.' Coerced prostitution, which has existed for thousands of years, is likely increasing. But the repressive measures adopted by capitalist states in the name of 'human rights' and 'protecting women' will only intensify these miseries through state persecution."

In many ways, sex workers are the canaries in the coal mine for online censorship. The capitalist state is targeting sex workers for the same reason serial killers often do--they think they can get away with it because society deems them expendable. It is in the interest of the working class to fight against censorship and to defend the most vulnerable and oppressed sectors of the population. Sex workers face discrimination in all aspects of life. Renting an apartment is extremely difficult without official pay stubs; health care is beyond reach; and sex work isn't exactly something one can put on a résumé. Sex work should be legalized, and its workers organized into unions!

As in all areas of life under capitalism, a class divide exists in the sex industry. Stormy Daniels, a sex worker who is being hypocritically championed by anti-Trump Democrats, is unlikely to have trouble finding work or paying her bills as a result of the law. Nor will the Washington madams frequented by lawmakers on Capitol Hill have to close up shop. The law is intended to punish the most vulnerable sex workers, and in racist America a disproportionate number of impoverished sex workers are black. The FBI reports that young black people make up 55 percent of prostitution arrests of minors. The idea that the capitalist state, whose cops gun down blacks and minorities with impunity, is concerned about the welfare of women is obscene. Sex workers routinely do not report acts of violence against them because of the harassment and brutality, including rape, they often face at the hands of the police.

We are opposed to the criminalization of prostitution, and we oppose all laws against "crimes without victims." The government should not have the right to interfere in people's private, sexual lives. We are against any categorical criminalization of a sex act, including through reactionary "age of consent" laws, which dictate a sexless existence to teenagers. We advocate nothing more and nothing other than effective consent between individuals in whatever form of sex they choose.

As Marxists, we understand that it is the institution of the family that brings money into sexual relations. It is private property that requires monogamy from women, forcing them into the home to have babies, cook, clean and screw on command. Capitalist law, the social opprobrium against "sin" as defined by organized religion, and a pile of laundry are all that distinguish the wife from the prostitute in this fundamental sense. The working-class family is taught that the mother must be a slave to her children and household, and the father must work to provide for his family or he is not a man. This is the ideology the ruling class peddles so that each family accepts the burden of raising the next generation of wage slaves.

As revolutionary socialists, we fight for a future society in which women will have genuine social and political equality. This requires replacing the family and its private enslavement of women. Following a socialist revolution, the working class in power would collectivize childcare, laundry, cooking, cleaning and education. Once these tasks are removed from the shoulders of wives and mothers, women can stand fully equal to men as productive members of society. Only then will prostitution--and its twin institution, the family--be relegated to the dustbin of history.
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