Sex workers yesterday joined with other feminists and human rights activists to voice their opposition to a Trump-inspired ‘anti-trafficking’ law – in the US known as SESTA/FOSTA – ahead of a debate on mirroring them in the UK, which was held in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
The proposed legislation, brought to the Parliament by Sarah Champion MP, would attempt to kick sex workers off the internet, banning them from advertising and making it harder for them to accept payment.
“This law is being pushed on the basis that it will tackle trafficking – in fact, it will make the lives of migrant sex workers harder, and increase our vulnerability to violence,” Ava Caradonna, a spokeswoman for X:talk, said. “When you take away our ability to work independently and share safety information, we are pushed into more exploitative and dangerous situations. The exploitation of migrants in the UK sex industry is a huge problem, but this exploitation is caused by harsh immigration laws, where people are prevented from working in the mainstream economy and risk deportation if they come forward about abuse. This is compounded by terrible prostitution law, which forces us to work in the shadows, at risk of arrest and without labour rights.”
The proposed law change would make it more difficult for sex workers to screen clients, and share information about dangerous clients among themselves, or to connect with each other for support. Removing US sex workers’ ability to advertise online and so find clients independently has already pushed them in greater numbers into the arms of managers, many of whom are exploitative.
“It’s extraordinary that people who call themselves feminists are promoting the exact same legal model which the Trump administration has used against sex workers,” Jen, a sex worker and activist with SWARM, said. “We know already that SESTA/FOSTA is endangering vulnerable women and forcing them into the hands of managers and abusive partners. It’s also shifting power from sex workers to clients: clients in the US are bragging about how they know sex workers can’t afford to make basic safety checks now.”
This law has also forced some US sex workers to work on the street. Street based sex workers bear the brunt of criminalisation and police abuse. A law that pushes more sex workers onto the streets would make even more people vulnerable to violence and arrest.
“Women go into sex work to refuse the poverty that some MPs seem to think we should quietly endure,” said Niki Adams, a spokeswoman with the ECP. “We go into sex work so we can refuse the low-waged, often exploitative, work in the jobs which are the alternatives to prostitution. Many of us are single mothers working to support families and have been hounded off of benefits by punitive sanctions. If MPs like Sarah Champion want to save us from sex work, she should outlaw our poverty, not prostitution. And support our demand to decriminalise sex work so that we can be safe from arrest.”