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Rights Not Rescue: "A Sex Worker Town Hall”
08-18-2018, 04:37 AM
Post: #1
Rights Not Rescue: "A Sex Worker Town Hall”
Rights Not Rescue: "A Sex Worker Town Hall”
Highlights of RollingStone article 8/16/2018
The June 2018 meeting with close to 200 sexworkers in Ridgewood, New York was sponsored by congressional candidate Suraj Patel. He was the first primary candidate to take an official policy stance against the new federal law SESTA-FOSTA. Although he did not ultimately win the election, Patel’s campaign set a powerful precedent for the importance of sex workers as a constituency.

Patel lost in the primary to incumbent Carolyn Baloney, who praised "the huge milestone in the fight to combat online sex trafficking with the passage of FOSTA/SESTA- a bill I co-authored."

Since the law was passed, there has been a swell of protests, political actions and new forms of grassroots organizing among the American sex worker rights community. Dissent has saturated social media on hashtags including #LetUsSurvive, #SurvivorsAgainstSESTA and #SexWorkersVote, arguing that punishing online platforms only denies workers resources, forcing them into more dangerous situations. For now, various community groups are focusing their energies on supporting one another in an era of urgent crisis, but there’s a long-term goal for many within the movement: Decriminalization of sex work, across the board.

Patel’s stance against SESTA-FOSTA was the result of a conversation with NYC-based group Survivors Against SESTA and community organizer Lola Balcon. The purpose of the town hall was to give Patel a chance to listen to sex workers’ stories, something many activists feel their representatives have failed to do.

ESTA-FOSTA “may have been created with good intentions to protect victims of sex trafficking, but they fail to recognize that some of us do sex work willingly and for different reasons,” Gentili tells Rolling Stone.

On the West Coast, sex workers and advocates Maxine Holloway and Arabelle Raphael founded Bay Pros Support in the weeks following the passage of SESTA/FOSTA. Their post carefully listed suggestions from cybersecurity and encrypted messaging, to the importance of offshore servers, to fundraising tips for supporting the most marginalized. BPS’ work seeks to both alleviate and call attention to the stress that sex workers are enduring in their scramble to re-stabilize their businesses.

Perhaps the highest profile efforts to repeal SESTA-FOSTA emerged on June 28th, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit against the federal government. Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al. v. United States is the first constitutional challenge to SESTA-FOSTA, on the grounds of First and Fifth Amendment violations.

“Decriminalization could help end trafficking,” says one expert.

Sebastian, a fellow with the Sex Worker Giving Circle at Third Wave Fund, agrees that decriminalization would lead to sex workers being treated like laborers in any other industry, which includes holding exploitative practices accountable. “Decriminalization could help end trafficking because worker autonomy would be normalized. People in the sex trade wouldn’t have to rely on pimps and market optimizers as they could do their work openly,” Sebastian says.

Although Holloway acknowledges that “decriminalization could open the door for more government regulations that would give the state further license to control the bodies and labor of sex workers,” she believes it would be worth taking action to reduce the amount of policing in sex workers’ lives.

Sex workers and their advocates across the country agree that the movement towards decriminalization must allow those with experience in the sex industry to build their own policies. Although SESTA-FOSTA represents a setback in the fight for sex worker rights, many activists spoke of finding strength in the industrious resilience of their communities.

“I see hope every day in the incredible kindness that is reflected from sex worker to sex worker, activist to activist,” says Balcon, the community activist with Survivors Against SESTA. “I see restorative, rather than punitive, justice in action.”

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