It’s now clear that sex worker organizers were right to warn that the removal of safe online advertising would literally create trafficking and hurt everyone in the sex trade, abuse victims and consensual workers alike. Studies we cited alongside our lived experiences showed that the availability of online advertising for sexual services decreased fatalities among women overall nationwide. We explained that workers using the internet could cut out middlemen (or pimps) and tend to their own safety, creating internet blacklists and even complex screening databases and matching systems. In a reality messier than prohibitionists like to acknowledge, we often use sex work to save our own lives, as a response to sudden homelessness after being kicked out by a parent because of our sexuality or to escape an abusive partner. Now, more people are working in less safe conditions, like on the street, or are having to rely on a manager or live with a client—situations advocates of the bill often describe as trafficking.
Even if ignorance is the explanation, it’s not an excuse, and it’s definitely not enough to let this vote go unaddressed in the upcoming primary.
This isn’t a surprise to sex workers. Studies show that increased criminalization of sex work leads to increased violence, and abuse by police themselves is a daily reality for sex workers worldwide. Research published in the Journal of Crime and Justice shows that the most vulnerable often “stand the risk of being victimized by both the sex trafficking industry and the criminal justice system.” As sex worker advocate Phoenix Calida told me, criminalization backers often don’t understand how these laws play out, “They don’t realize that people who are trafficked get arrested. They don’t realize that migrant workers get deported.”
You can’t be upset at people for being single-issue voters when that issue is their literal survival.
We have to ask our candidates if their definition of justice is purely punitive—lock the “bad guys” up, take a victory lap, and walk away—or if it’s about actually helping as many people as possible. Do our candidates support carceral policies, or will they join us in prioritizing harm reduction?At the very least, as impacted parties and as constituents, we deserve a response. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen sex workers told to avoid criticizing candidates in the interests of “Democratic Unity.” But if you’re interested in social justice, you can’t be upset at people for being single-issue voters when that issue is their literal survival. If Democratic volunteers are worried about our complaints, they would be better served by making sure there is better policy around sex work in the Democratic platform than by asking sex workers to stop fighting for their survival. We are asking to stop the bleeding. Hell, we are asking for people to even acknowledge the wound.
A Democrat who believes in increased criminalization will sign the death warrant for countless sex workers.
This shouldn't be considered a high bar, and it’s not a far left purity test. A Democrat who believes in increased criminalization will sign the death warrant for countless sex workers. A Democrat willing to examine their mistakes and work towards decriminalization, decarceration, and destigmatization will help just as many people survive.In the next few months, I anticipate many conversations with volunteers eager to get me involved with their candidate. I’ll be telling them this: “I’m glad you’re excited, but I won’t be able to give any time or money to a candidate until they’ve addressed their vote on SESTA, the impact of the bill, and their position on human rights for sex workers.” I hope you’ll tell them the same, because we’re not going to get an answer without your help.