The EFF has released data on the impact of FOSTA. It comes as Democrats are calling for a study of their own on the bills impacts.
When SESTA/FOSTA was passed last year, many criticized it for a number of reasons. This includes the fact that it would cause websites to shut down, erode Section 230, and put sex workers in harms way. Unfortunately, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle mostly ignored the pleas from the public and passed it anyway.
Now, more than one year later, data is beginning to come in on the impacts of the legislation. The news is quite grim. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is talking about those numbers:
In a recent study of sex workers completed by the grassroots sex worker advocacy organization Hacking//Hustling, in collaboration with Whose Corner Is It Anyway, 40% of participants reported experiencing increased violence after FOSTA became law. Additionally, an overwhelming 99% of participants said they do not feel safer because of FOSTA. The details of this study were recently reviewed at a conference hosted by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Law Center, and the full results will soon be available. But these grim statistics aren’t an outlier: last year the San Francisco Police Department reported that human trafficking and street-based sex work offenses had spiked 170% since FOSTA’s passage.
These numbers affirm what those who participate in the sex industry warned would happen. FOSTA has ensnared a wide array of platforms and online marketplaces whose operators, fearing that comments, posts, or ads that are sexual in nature will result in new liability, have censored users’ speech or shut down entirely. The absence of these sites have prevented sex workers from organizing and utilizing tools that have kept them safe. Taking away client-screening capabilities, bad date lists, and other intra-community safety tips leads to putting more workers on the street, which leads to increased violence and trafficking. The consequences of this censorship are most devastating for trans women of color, who are disproportionately affected by this violence. In NYC, the unfair targeting of trans women by local ordinances are so prevalent, loitering laws are colloquially known as “Walking While Trans” laws.
After SESTA/FOSTA’s passage, plaintiffs Woodhull Freedom Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Alex Andrews, the Internet Archive, and Eric Koszyk filed suit to invalidate the law. EFF is part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs, who are asking a court to declare the law unconstitutional and prevent it from being enforced. On this International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, it’s clear that the first step to actually ending such violence is to repeal SESTA/FOSTA, and to listen more closely to the communities affected by such laws. Destigmatization and full decriminalization is the battle cry of many sex work advocacy groups; but under FOSTA, this advocacy may be illegal. It’s time for us to start taking these risks, and the real-world implications of FOSTA’s censorship, seriously.
Interestingly enough, on the same day the EFF spoke about those numbers, there has been another development. House Democrats have tabled a bill that would look into the impacts SESTA/FOSTA has had. From Engadget:
If you’re concerned that FOSTA-SESTA seems built more to kick sex workers offline than to fight sex trafficking, you’re not alone. House representatives and senators have introduced the Safe Sex Workers Study Act, a bill that would analyze the impact of FOSTA-SESTA on the health and safety of sex workers and help Congress make “informed” decisions. The politicians are concerned that banning sites from the “promotion of prostitution” only served to hurt the consensual sex industry by shutting down resources where workers could screen customers, set limits and discuss issues with their peers. This not only increased the chances for violence and health issues, but may have thwarted the very purpose of FOSTA-SESTA by pushing sex traffickers further underground.
The bill creators pointed to “anecdotal” evidence of abuse and violence increasing after FOSTA-SESTA passed, and noted that the existing law was particularly harsh for marginalized groups (such as the LGBTQ community) that were more likely to feel pressure to trade sex for food and money.
Representatives Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna introduced the bill in the House, while Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden brought it to the Senate. Co-sponsors include well-known figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib in the House, and Bernie Sanders in the Senate.
The article goes on to point out that it’s unlikely to make it into law given that it’s Democrats pushing for it and Trump proudly signed SESTA/FOSTA into law last year. Still, one year after passage, and there is still those fighting to repeal it. Given how much damage the bill has caused online, it’s not exactly a surprise.