Sex Work and the Digital Realm: SESTA/FOSTA Post

The title “sex work” encompasses much more than it used to. Digital media allows sex workers to sell fantasy sexual experiences through selling nude photos, sexting services, phone services (pre-recorded, custom, or interactive), and explicit videos (pre-recorded, custom, or interactive). Digital content may be accompanied by physical paraphernalia, such as used underwear, socks, sex toys that have already been used, and sex toys with an intention of use. Most, if not all interactions attempt to mimic a long-distance relationship between the content consumer and the content producer.

Sex work in the digital age represents new potential for harm reduction to sex workers. Digital anonymity and the lack of personal presence provide an accessible option for women craving financial independence, with the will to engage in sex work, without the same fear of physical violence that may accompany sex work in brick-and-mortar establishments.

However, the passage of FOSTA/SESTA (Fight Online Sex-Trafficking Act) on March 21, 2018, has radically changed the digital realm for adult-services consumers. F/S created an exception to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, effectively holding website publishers responsible for the digital content that they host. If third parties were found to be posting ads on their platforms for prostitution, including consensual sex work, hosts could be found guilty of aiding prostitution and face up to ten years in prison.

In F/S’s wake, Backpage shut down, as well as subsections of Reddit, Craigslist, FetLife. Instagram began shutting down accounts of sex workers, even hiding some posts tagged #lingerie. Sex workers have reported conditions forcing them into riskier situations, working with unknown clients and/or pimps, having more difficulty screening clients, and of course having a harder time advertising.

And suddenly, all the added safety and permissions offered by the internet were flushed down the toilet. For a community attempting to have their healing work recognized as legitimate, a community that provides a judgement free-space of sexual liberation, SESTA/FOSTA was a punch in the gut.

Empress Wu