In April, President Trump signed two bills, together called SESTA-FOSTA into law: the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). While proponents of these bills say they are meant to protect victims of human trafficking in the sex trade, a functional analysis of both show that they delineate no material difference between coercive trafficking and consensual sex work. Instead both bills further endanger sex workers themselves, in place of attacking and dismantling human traffickers and their systems.
SESTA-FOSTA is the latest in a history of attempts by the US government to treat perceived societal ills not by dealing with their causes, but by criminalizing their symptoms and further stigmatizing marginalized segments of the population. As socialists, we recognize these laws as tools of the capitalist carceral state, and to that end, the Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles is proud to stand in solidarity with sex workers and their advocates around the country who oppose SESTA-FOSTA.
The main targets of SESTA-FOSTA are websites that are seen as “encouraging” or “facilitating” sex trafficking. Because of the vague definitions of what “encouraging” or “facilitating” entails, and because of celebrity and other high profilebacking, websites started shutting down for fear of potential consequences before the bills were even signed. Craigslist removed its personal ads section entirely. Soon after that, Backpage, a site popular among independent sex workers, was shut down.
As we have seen with the failure of the “War on Drugs,” criminalization does nothing to eliminate either the demand or supply for that which society deems as vice. The argument the government makes is that the market for sex work will disappear without channels to advertise it. In reality, attempts to criminalize these trades have the actual effect of encouraging secrecy and violence to protect them. The rise of international drug cartels wreaking havoc in South and Central America are a clear example of the ramifications of criminalization. In the case of SESTA-FOSTA, the reduced ability for sex workers to utilize the internet in their work increases the power of pimps and other traffickers to control and abuse these workers - the precise opposite of what the bills claim to do.
To further the analogy between the “War on Drugs” and SESTA-FOSTA, we direct attention to how escalating criminalization of drugs results in escalating racial profiling by both civilian communities and the police, which in turn results in escalating racialized police brutality. In kind, SESTA-FOSTA will give police carte blanche to menace individuals, usually women, that they deem suspicious - this will especially target women of color and trans women, as well as women in poor communities. The passage of SESTA-FOSTA at the federal level has encouraged similar legislation at the state level, such as California SB-1204, which endeavors to expand the definition of “pandering” to include any act that is seen as “encouraging prostitution.” Any study of the history of policing in the United States will make manifest that escalating police harassment committed in carrying out California SB-1204 and other such laws will result in massive overreach, such as “stop and frisk” policies searching for condoms. Of course, those who would be arrested for carrying such materials would be those deemed “suspect” by the police - and, as always, the most “suspect” are those who are most marginalized.
Those who seek to criminalize sex work often claim that sex workers are uniquely exploited, and that no sex worker performs such labor of their own volition. To this we say, no worker performs labor of their own volition and all labor is exploited under capitalism. Until all individuals are free to choose whether or not they work, we cannot truly claim to be banning certain labor under the pretense of the workers in the field lacking agency. To those who worry for the agency of sex workers, we say first focus on providing sustenance, housing, medical care, and other material needs. With a material analysis, it is clear that a ban on sex work does not serve to protect the agency of laborers, but rather, to deny agency to marginalized groups - usually women, and particularly poor women, women of color, and trans women - to labor in a fashion of their choosing.
DSA-LA recognizes that sex workers are not criminals to be stigmatized, but members of the oppressed proletariat to be championed. By standing in solidarity we pledge to lend our effort and spirit to the struggle of sex workers as we lend our effort and spirit to the struggle of all oppressed people.
Today, Saturday, June 2, 2018, we stand in solidarity with the organizers of the #LetUsSurvive march, including APAC, SWOP, ACLU, and all sex worker allies:
June 2, 2018
1652 N. Cherokee Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028