In east downtown Las Vegas, over 100 sex workers, advocates, and allies marched to the federal courthouse, together creating a sea of red umbrellas. The marchers chanted demands for their rights and recognition that sex work is work, as organizers and speakers highlighted the importance of community. The Las Vegas march was one of the many rallies taking place around the world for International Whores Day on June 2.
Though everyone at the Las Vegas march spoke about different issues affecting sex workers today, there was a great emphasis on the harmful effects of FOSTA-SESTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act), which were signed into law in April of this year under the guise of helping victims of sex trafficking by punishing websites for hosting any discussions of sex work—but that ultimately threaten the safety and livelihoods of countless consensual sex workers. We spoke to sex workers, organizers, and allies about their reasons for marching and what they want people to know about their community.
"I work a minimum wage job because I was charged with those eight counts [of sex trafficking]. A little bit about about me, I was a sex worker, I started a little late— I started when I was 30. I did it to get out of a domestic violence situation. I have two wonderful kids I was able to raise because I was a sex worker. And along with that, I had insurance. l was able to pay my bills. Once I was arrested, that shit went away. Now I work minimum wage and I have to take food stamps. I don't know what the hell this country is thinking, taking away our rights as sex workers. I feel very emotional about it still. Fear puts us in the background and that's not going to happen anymore. With FOSTA and SESTA, we are standing in the forefront and calling out for our rights. What is being done is not okay. We are going to be loud and we are going to be coming together in solitary...For those that say sex work is exploitative and demeaning, I say you've never worked a minimum wage job.”
"The big thing I want people to understand is that we also do not want sex trafficking. We also think sex trafficking is bad. And putting these two groups against one another is really just hurting everybody. We have more information than legislators and cops. We want an open dialogue so that, moving forward, laws that are passed can actually prevent sex trafficking, protect people, and improve health and human services."
“There’s going to be a continued need for sexual services. Like that's just not going to go away. So what’s happened [after FOSTA- SESTA] is that there’s a decrease in safety, a decrease in accountability, a decrease in actually knowing the people you are having experiences with are safe.… Now we just have less freedom of speech. Less rights related to internet freedom—having that taken away is a really alarming step.”
"I'm a pastor and over the years, sex workers have always supported me. I told them that I will have their back publicly... I'm here as a Christian supporting sex workers.”
"As a transgender women of color I advocate for the full decriminalization of sex work in order to enable me to have access to the legal structures that have so far only preclude me from recourse from the times that I have been assaulted, raped, robbed, harassed, and stalked... Although sex work felt like my only option at the time when I started, I will fight to ensure I am not victimized by the state,” Valentina Mia said in a speech to the crowd. “They should not have the authority to make things harder for me when they primarily, through the lack of protections for rights that would allow me to maintain stable employment, are the reason why I’m here in the first place. I decided that I am not a victim, I am a survivor and the state wants to trap me in a cycle of oppression and poverty. Bills like FOSTA-SESTA among others attempt to further subjugate me to oppression. The definition of cruelty is hitting someone when they are already down and these bills do just that.”
"There is a lot of fight we still have to fight.... There are still a lot of us that aren't being supported and the bottom line is why clog up the system with people who love what they do? I've spent 20 years mastering my craft, I'm the only one that can do some of the stuff I do. Why clog up the system with people like me when law enforcement can focus on victims. There has got to be 200 people here, not one of us is a victim. We are here because we want to be here, we love what we do, we provide a service that is therapeutic on both ends.”
"I'm a sex worker first and foremost, so this is a cause near and dear to my heart. With the destruction that FOSTA has caused, it has affected me and it has affected the people I love. I came here to be around my whore family, get some support, and be part of what I think is a very important day and important cause... I do work as an independent [dominatrix] in Vegas and some of the websites I use have been closed down. So there's less advertising venues, I've had fewer clients. I'm relying more on webcam work which I don't particularly like, so I'm having to engage in sex work I don't enjoy doing but I have to pay the bills right? [FOSTA-SESTA] has hit the whole community. I feel pretty privileged, though, because I know it hasn't hit me as hard as others.”
“The language in FOSTA-SESTA is so broad sweeping and doesn’t just attack sex workers, but attacks our general freedom of speech on the internet in my opinion. And us, coming out, and being visible, showing our voices and our bodies in contrast to that is incredibly important right now. I think it’s similar to how the Women's March emerged after Trump got elected. We are reacting right now, and that is going to be seen, hopefully.”
"This helps us all grieve together. Because we feel the pain of these girls and guys that are being affected by FOSTA-SESTA— we feel the paid too, even if it doesn't affect me personally right now. And you know what, it does affect me personally right now because now I'm afraid to post things on the internet. Just about anything that I do. Because anything I do is to support sex workers. That's my mission, I'm a hoe on a mission. And I'm scared now to even speak, but I do it anyway. Every time I post something I'm like, 'Please, Instagram, don't shut my account down.'”
“I’m a strong believer that sex workers' rights are human rights. I feel like today, this whole SESTA and FOSTA has put a lot of sex workers' lives in jeopardy. But not only that—the whole law is kinda janky. Since the law came out, Eros has been shut down, Backpage has been shut down, even the dating section on Craigslist is no longer there, which I think is a big red flag. This law isn’t just attacking sex workers' lives but human sexuality in general."