FOSTA Will Harm Porn Performers—But Not How You Think
By Sophie Saint Thomas
By now you’ve probably about FOSTA and SESTA, newly passed legislation cloaked as protection against sex trafficking, which in reality only further criminalizes and discriminates against sex workers. But how exactly does it affect sex workers? Unfortunately, due to intentionally vague language, we may not know the extent of the harm until it happens. Each week, NSFW will be reporting on various sides of these atrocious legislation, and how they are affecting various aspects of sex work. To start, we’re going to answer some basic questions about FOSTA-SESTA and talk about how it could impact the porn industry. While so far, most porn production hasn’t been directly affected as much as websites such as Backpage, that allows sex workers to advertise their services and exchange critical information, and was already seized, that could change. So far, sex workers NSFW spoke to say FOSTA-SESTA will impact porn performers, but in ways some fans may not realize.
What is SESTA-FOSTA?
SESTA-FOSTA is supposedly anti-sex trafficking legislation. SESTA, which stands for the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017, is meant to further define the U.S.’s current sex-trafficking laws. The Senate passed SESTA on March 21 with a whopping vote of 97-2. FOSTA is similar legislation that stands for Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. It updates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from being sued for the content posted by their users, the ACLU explains. Supported by Republicans and mainstream liberals alike (celebrities such as Amy Schumer have done PSAs in favor of the legislation) have vocalized their support of the bills. “This is hardly surprising considering the Hitler-Stalin pact between radical feminists and right-wing extremists who have set aside their differences in order to pursue their shared prohibitionist agenda,” says Nina Hartley, an adult performer who has been in the industry for 35 years.
Now, prosecutors can charge websites with a federal crime punishable by up to ten years in prison for running “an interactive computer service” with “the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.” FOSTA passed in the House on February 27th with a 388-25 vote. “SESTA-FOSTA considers even consensual sex work to be sex trafficking — any site used by sex workers will now be criminally liable for trafficking. Sites where sex workers advertise, warn each other about dangerous clients, discuss civil rights issues or fight harassment and violence will be shut down,” Hartley says.
How does that affect the porn industry?
Because SESTA-FOSTA uses vague language to make it enforceable as needed, as mentioned, we may not understand the entire scope of how adult industries are affected until it happens. Adult film production is legally distinct from sex work in California and New Hampshire. However, other states do not have protections. “SESTA-FOSTA means that state prosecutors would have full license to go after adult sites and performers in the rest of the country. It will also enable individuals to bring actions in civil court against not only large-scale ISP’s but also against the operators of small-scale, home-based adult entertainment sites, in effect enlisting anti-porn civilians as vigilantes to bankrupt such businesses, depriving their owners of their livelihoods,” Hartley says. Time will tell how the laws affect the production companies, but currently, performers are the most at-risk, if not at the moment for appearing in porn, but for the job requirements outside of being on camera.
So how are performers affected?
What many people don’t understand about porn is that due to the rise of free hub sites, it no longer pays as it should. Often, porn stars get paid a flat fee for a day’s work for being in a porn video. Therefore, many porn performers also cam, or do session work as a dominatrix or escort. “These porn performers are doing a million different jobs because there’s just not enough money,” says adult performer Arabelle Raphael. Their individual websites and listings on sites such as Backpage and Craigslist along with social media are responsible for booking clients and gigs. When the government comes after those, not only will they be left without means of income, but they will be forced to use means offline to find clients, which can be more dangerous. Along with advertising services, sex workers use websites to exchange bad date lists and share industry knowledge with one another. In typical American fashion, those less privileged will be hurt first. Free sites, such as Craigslist and Reddit, which banned a number of long-running sex worker forums, including r/Escorts, r/MaleEscorts, r/Hookers, and r/SugarDaddy just days after the ruling, have already stripped some of their wages. “Those not as well connected are going to be affected first because they providers where you pay to be listed, those are still standing. If you can pay to have your ad listed, that’s still available but not everybody can. It’s just making the vulnerable even more vulnerable those that have the least resources have even less,” Lotus Lain, industry relations for the Free Speech Coalition says. The bill has the opposite of its supposed intentions, as it makes life more dangerous for sex workers.
How does it target free speech?
SESTA-FOSTA makes websites liable for content that users post, including chat rooms, blog posts, and comment sections. “We are likely to see much greater restrictions placed on performer uploads on clips and cam sites, a new wave of banking closures, banned social media accounts, and wholesale abandonment of places online where workers can congregate,” Hartley says. While sex workers will be affected most, anyone who cares about free speech should be enraged and terrified right now. The unfortunate truth is that not everyone will rally behind sex workers. This is why it’s so important for everyone to speak out against SESTA-FOSTA.
What can sex workers do?
Lain advises switching from Gmail to Protonmail, free encrypted email based in Switzerland, and using other websites hosted in sex worker friendlier countries such as Switzerland and Australia. “All of these U.S. based companies are yielding so quickly to FOSTA and SESTA regulations. It’s scary because you don’t know whose accounts are being picked and chosen,” Lain says. You can also attend an in-person meetup, which are taking place in most major cities, which Lain says is giving her hope as they’re demonstrative of the camaraderie and strength of the sex worker community. “Sex workers should attend in-person sex worker meetings that are activists lead as far as disseminating information,” Lain says. People of all privilege and industries are getting together in person to share the information that they can no longer share online.
What can allies do?
To start, read and educate yourself about what is happening. “So-called progressives who oppose the decriminalization of sex work clearly understand nothing about either sex work or truly progressive politics,” Hartley says. Allies should speak up, because unfortunately, not everyone will be pulled by sex workers’ plight. Amplify the voices of those whose livelihoods are at stake without stealing the mic. Share on social media why the legislation is so harmful both for sex workers and free speech. And if you have income to spare, donate to an organization such as the ACLU which is helping fight for sex workers and freedom of speech. And finally, if you still are harboring ill-informed prejudice towards sex workers, now is the time to get over such cruel and antiquated ways of thinking.