A better cure for sex trafficking

On February 27, the House passed HR1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, also called FOSTA. It passed 388-25. Those who opposed were largely from the libertarian House Freedom Caucus and progressive Democrats.

The bill is opposed by this coalition because it will conflate sex trafficking with mere prostitution. It is a direct attack on section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which exempts internet platforms like Backpage.com from liability for what people post. FOSTA pierces this shield for state and private lawsuits against the internet platforms. Tech giants like Amazon and Google support the bill. Public Choice economics tells us this is because it could dramatically stifle startups and guarantee their market share.

Numerous studies demonstrate that being blocked from advertising their services on the internet leads to more women turning to streetwalking to make a living, which increases their chances of being victims of violent crime, by customers or the police, by almost 20 percent.

March is National Women’s Month, but as Seattle sex worker and activist Maggie McNeill writes at her “Honest Courtesan” blog, it really applies to only some women. She wrote, “Until mainstream ’feminists’ start including all women—even the ones who won’t obey them and whose motives for sex they dislike—’Women’s Day’ is about nothing more than adding more kinds of authoritarians to the ruling class of a dying police state.”

HR1865 was sponsored by a woman, Missouri Republican Rep. Ann Wagner. Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus was a co-sponsor, and Nevada Democratic senatorial hopeful Rep. Jacky Rosen voted for the bill.

Where are the women legislators who will not virtue-signal that they are opposed to violence against women and LGBTQ people while exposing more women, many of them bisexual and/or transgender, to actual violence?

The U.S. Department of Justice sent a last-minute letter to the House opposing the bill, saying it could make prosecuting real traffickers more difficult. Even Attorny General Jeff Sessions thinks parts of the bill are unconstitutional.

The problem of sex trafficking will not be solved until legislators understand sex work can be a rational, legitimate strategy for survival and flourishing. Until sex workers are treated with the same respect as other workers there will be unnecessary violence involved in the business. Sex workers are tired of being stigmatized and patronized.

Recently a trafficking rescue organization held a fundraiser in Reno. Their radio ads used sensationalist anecdotes of 10-year-olds being snatched off the streets and turned out and knocked up. Some police say there are virtually no actual cases of abductions like this. Sex trafficking coercion is nearly all much more mundane. It is primarily women being told a job they needed and may have traveled a distance for involves sex. Underage runaways can be turned out as prostitutes. It is alleged that some Asian women come here under debt bondage that may include violent threats but so far little proof has been provided. Sex trafficking numbers are inflated and used as a cover for ordinary prostitution raids.

Sex trafficking has become a moral panic, fed by a sensationalist media and rescue profiteers. Women politicians vote with prohibitionist male colleagues to endanger the women who work in the profession.

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) has just published a study looking at grassroots sex worker rights organizations in seven countries, including Canada and Mexico. They have a better solution to the problem of sex trafficking. Let the sex workers themselves fight it. Decriminalize sex work first, then sex workers can come forward without fear to help get the bad guys.