Did you know that today is “International Whores Day”? That is no euphemism either. It is for actual sex workers. And yesterday they went to Congress to make their presence felt as citizens.
If there is anyplace where someone is bound to get screwed, it has to be Washington, D.C., but this last week saw an epic event. On Friday, a collection of national sex workers made the rounds of what may be the greatest assemblage of prostitutes ever: The United States Congress. And while there are probably some current members of Congress who are no strangers to dealing with sex workers, this time they had to deal with them with a new capacity. This time it was not done in secret, but in the open as the workers arrived to lobby Congress in an effort to battle a law that may be making them less safe and less profitable.
The law in question is the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA for short. The stated goal of FOSTA was to stop sex trafficking, particularly of underage women, on online platforms used by sex workers to advertise their services. FOSTA made platforms liable for the postings of all of its users, thus allowing the government to punish and shut down the companies for the actions of their customers. The argument was that if the companies were held liable for the advertising of their users, then those companies would be more cautious or inquisitive about who was using their platforms.
And it worked. And worked a tad too well. Not only were notorious sites like Backpage shut down, but a wave of companies went into a complete lockdown on anything even remotely sexual. Craigslist and others shut down their entire personals section. Websites maintained by sex workers that outed clients who were abusive or untrustworthy were also shut down. Because the law is incredibly broad in its language and the current political climate is unpredictable, there is no distinction being made between transactions of consenting adults and sex trafficking of exploited underage or otherwise vulnerable people.
The response from the sex work industry has been nothing less than revolutionary. While they expect no change from Congress, they remembered that they too are citizens of the United States with a right to petition their government and they are doing just that. We can anticipate greater efforts to unionize where such work is legal and to see more lobbying efforts across the country by sex workers.