Today, Donald Trump signed SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex-Traffickers Act) into law, leaving thousands of sex workers without the tools that help make their work safer. It is dangerous to conflate sex work with sex trafficking and this law was sold as a measure that would help protect survivors of trafficking, but it really just forces workers further in the margins and on the streets.
While we stand against human trafficking — defined by the Department of Homeland Security as “modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act,” it is imperative that we be intentional about discussing sex work as what it is: work.
We advocate for working environments that are safe, healthy and in the best interest of workers. SESTA provides none of these things, in fact, it strips sex workers of the autonomy to decide when, where, how and with whom they’ll work. SESTA supporters argue the law will give survivors of trafficking a way to hold websites that host sex-for-sell advertisements accountable; yet, SESTA will further criminalize sex work and workers, this criminalization helps sustain trafficking by not allowing people to work on their own terms.
This law will overwhelmingly have a negative impact on the most marginalized workers, especially trans, queer, disabled and homeless people of color and Indigenous people, who face discrimination from other sources of employment. Online platforms provided more safety for sex workers to screen clients, negotiate boundaries, form community, and work in physically safer spaces. Forcing sex workers on the streets will significantly increase the rates of violence and imprisonment.
SESTA will not increase safety for survivors of human trafficking—it will only increase the violence, exploitation and criminalization faced by sex workers.
Decriminalizing sex work and providing access to housing and employment would create safety for both survivors of trafficking and sex workers. Making environments safer for sex workers will help those who are trafficked far more than SESTA could promise. Stripping workers of access to online platforms will not make a positive impact on them or those who are trafficked.
Not having access to work via the internet won’t help a trafficked person get freedom and that’s exactly why instead of this harmful law, lawmakers should be focused on making sure everyone in the U.S. has access to their basic human needs including housing, education, employment and comprehensive healthcare.