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Elizabeth Warren launches investigation into FOSTA/SESTA on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Vic Parsons December 17, 2019
Trans women selling sex to survive the pandemic, thanks to Trump

Placard at a sex workers' rights march in Stockholm. (Twitter/SWARM)

Senator Elizabeth Warren and representatives Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee have launched an investigation into FOSTA/SESTA on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

FOSTA/SESTA are the anti-sex-trafficking bills pushed by Ivanka Trump and applauded by Hollywood celebrities like Amy Schumer that passed with bipartisan support in April 2018.

They have been broadly criticised by sex workers, who argue that the bills shut down websites that allowed them to do their work both safely and independently.

Only two senators voted against the laws – one of whom, senator Ron Wyden, is co-sponsoring the new investigation, The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act.

The Act will examine the impact of introducing FOSTA/SESTA on sex workers’ safety, ability to screen clients and the number of sex workers forced into selling sex on the street rather than indoors.

But sex workers online have been quick to call out the fact that Warren voted for FOSTA/SESTA in the first place.

Journalist and author Melissa Gira Grant said, “It’s coming up on two years since Warren voted for SESTA/FOSTA. Now she’s introducing the Senate version of a bill to study the harms it caused to sex workers.”

LGBT+ civil rights organisation Lambda Legal has commended Warren, Khanna and Lee for the new bill.

“The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act is important because it acknowledges the reality that some people trade sex for economic survival, to meet their basic needs for food and shelter,” said Lambda lawyer Puneet Cheema.

“Some members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender women of colour, sometimes rely on sex work because they face extreme discrimination in the formal employment sector. This bill is historic in recognizing that the lives, health, and safety of people who trade sex matter,” Cheema said.

Cheema added: “People who trade sex are already vulnerable to exploitation– the type of exploitation that SESTA/FOSTA intended to prevent. But with the loss of access to internet platforms, people who trade sex have been forced to the streets where there are higher risks of violence and exploitation… We need to make sure that anti-trafficking efforts don’t harm the people they intend to protect.”

Replying to Khanna’s tweet introducing the investigation, Shahid Buttar, a Democrat running to replace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2020, said, “Beyond placing sex workers at increased risk of violence, SESTA & FOSTA also invites corporate censorship & threatens online speech. Corporate liability for user-generated speech encourages platforms to censor content. It invites authoritarian outcomes.

The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act comes as the issue of decriminalising sex work edges its way into mainstream politics in the US, with Warren recently becoming the latest politician to say that she’s open to decriminalisation.

In June, New York became the first place in the US to introduce a bill decriminalising sex work.

More: decrim now, Elizabeth Warren, fosta/sesta

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