SESTA-FOSTA and the Effects on Sex Work

Brief History

On March 21, 2018, the Senate voted ninety-seven to two on the Fight Online Sex Trafficking (FOSTA) bill. This bill intends to “protect sex workers from trafficking [and] hold online platforms legally responsible for the content of its users” (Tracy). In other words, FOSTA aims at preventing websites, like Craigslist and Backpage, from facilitating sex trafficking. It may seem like a bill to “get behind”, but it actually has been thoroughly criticized by “internet advocates and sex workers who fear it will only make matters worse” (Tracy).


FOSTA is actually the combination of two separate bills: The Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (SESTA) and FOSTA, or H.R.1865, which is why it has been referred to at SESTA-FOSTA. The bill “rolls back portions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), a 20-year-old law that protects online publishers from the things their users say or do” (Tracy). Now, with SESTA-FOSTA , online publishers will be liable for the things their users say and do. With SESTA-FOSTA publishers are obligated to criminally prosecute any sex trafficking discussions that are viewable on their website[s] (Tracy). Yet, the bill has very vague wording, stating that a publisher is responsible if he or she “assists, supports, or facilitates” trafficking (Tracy). This opens the bill up to interpretation, which could lead to a myriad of lawsuits against publishers that did not even know trafficking was happening on their site. This is just one issue with the bill, but this is not the main issue I wish to address. Many sex workers have already spoken out against the bill and I believe this to be particularly salient in the context of human trafficking.

What SESTA-FOSTA Means for Sex Workers

Once again, SESTA-FOSTA holds online publishers accountable for third-party activity related to sex trafficking. Publishers have even started dismantling sites “that make trafficking more visible” in fear of the repercussions of third-party activities taking place on their sites (Tracy). Further, when publishers take down these sites, law enforcement is without a digital footprint to investigate trafficking in the sex trade and to locate trafficking victims (Tracy).

Sex workers often use these sites “to vet the backgrounds of clients and consult with peers to determine whether a client is safe” (Tracy). When these sites are brought down, and this resource is no longer available to sex workers, they often look elsewhere for a client. That is most often on the street, which is even more dangerous than online. Research suggests that sex workers “run an elevated risk of violence on the street” (Lampen). Not only are many sex workers at risk of violence, but they are “fearful of arrest [and in turn] move off main streets and into areas where they’re more difficult to spot” (Lampen).

My Evaluation

It seems to me that SESTA-FOSTA is not combatting the real issue here. The bill assumes that all sex workers are victims, which is simply not the case. Many sex workers are in the industry voluntarily and much of the sex they participate in is consensual. But when “information that enables worker[s] to give consent to a client out of reach at [any given] moment” is taken away, sex workers are more likely to become victims of violence (Lampen). Sex workers are already fearful of arrest and this bill conflates consensual sex work and criminal acts, giving rise to even more fear among sex workers. Also, keeping sex work criminal only further victimizes sex workers, which gives power to the abuser or trafficker. The criminality of sex work, in addition to the “stigma on the trade with measures like FOSTA and SESTA, cultivates a landscape in which sexual exploitation thrives” (Lampen). This bill does not aim to combat trafficking or protect sex workers, it only undermines free speech and further victimizes persons in sex work.


Lampen, Claire. “Sex Workers Explain Why the House’s Online Sex-Trafficking Bill Is Bulls**t.” The Daily Dot, 2 Mar. 2018,

Tracy, Phillip. “Trump Signs Controversial ‘Sex-Trafficking’ Bill That Could Hurt the Future of the Internet.” The Daily Dot, 11 Apr. 2018,

Contextualizing Human Trafficking

Contextualizing Human Trafficking and Forced Labor

In the previous blog post, many of us noted the importance of the aesthetics of humanitarian communication affecting the ethics of solidarity, or how one seeing violence affects the way one reacts to said violence. Further, this problematizing of violence in itself shapes laws to counter the violence which we see, whether that is forced labor or trafficking. Yet, many of these laws are general and this is why it is so detrimental to contextualize trafficking to further understand the issue itself. To explain trafficking and forced labor and its causes and entanglements in different cultural, political, and economic forces is no easy task. It is, like this prompt states, complex and varied across contexts, which is why one needs to consider the importance of contextualizing forced labor.

The Need to Contextualize Human Trafficking and Forced Labor

In the introduction, I called attention to the fact that many laws that are set in place to counter forced labor or trafficking are, in a sense, general. Today, it is “widely recognized that effectively tackling forced labor in the global economy means addressing its ‘root causes’”, with many believing poverty and globalization to be the ‘root causes’ (1). Yet, these two terms are too broad to fully explain what causes the exploitation of workers and their work. This also limits ways in which policymakers can address the issue; “if we cannot understand the issues we face, we are limited in what we can do about them” (1). It is not that these root causes do not matter, it is just they do not present lawmakers with the full picture. When we contextualize human trafficking or forced labor, we are better able to understand other types of trafficking or forced labor and better counter the issue. How do we better understand trafficking and forced labor though?

According to Confronting root causes: forced labor in global supply chains, forced labor is not simply caused by poverty and globalization. It must be approached with a “systematic and informed fashion” since forced labor is itself systematic (1). It is embedded in “deeper socio-economic structures that lie at the core of the capitalist global economy” (1). Because of this, Confronting asserts that instead of “simple consequence(s) of greed or the moral shortcomings of individuals, forced labor in global supply chains is a structural phenomenon that results when predictable, system-wide dynamics intersect to create a supply of highly exploitable workers and a business demand for their labor” (1). Forced labor resembles the economic system of supply and demand with its dynamics causing forced labor to be: poverty, identity and discrimination, limited labor protections, and restrictive mobility regimes (1). These dynamics are on the supply side that create a “pool of workers vulnerable to exploitation” (1). Forced labor, on the demand side, is created by concentrated corporate power and ownership, outsourcing, irresponsibly sourcing practices, and governance gaps (1). These dynamics “create pressure within the market for highly exploitable forms of labor or open up spaces with which that labor can be exploited” (1). With this in mind, I believe it is easier to understand trafficking and forced labor and therefore contextualize the issue. From here I would like to explore actual examples from the recent past or today that can be looked at with this new focus.

Continue reading Contextualizing Human Trafficking