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FOSTA and SESTA began their respective lives as two different bills created in an effort to curb sex trafficking on online personals sites — in particular,
Backpage has long been known for its advertisements for sex workers (though these were formally removed from the site last year).
The bill also conflates consensual sex work with nonconsensual sex work by doing nothing to differentiate between various kinds of sex work and related content — even if the workers and content are all legally protected by local law.
In Nevada, where prostitution is legal in some areas of the state, sex workers have been bracing for FOSTA-SESTA.
This protocol was later expounded upon in a 2014 follow-up that examined issues of consent and asserted that “consent is always irrelevant to determining whether the crime of human trafficking has occurred.” However, sex workers have argued vociferously that regardless of legal precedent, this conflation makes both consensual and nonconsensual sex workers less safe.
Melissa Mariposa, who responded to the bill by creating an offshore-hosted, sex worker-friendly ISP, described the risks to the Daily Dot: “If sex workers lose their storefront and safety tools, two things are going to happen,” Mariposa explained. Number two, prostitution is going to be pushed right back on the street and in hotel bars by women who will no longer want to see internet clientele and would rather take the risks freelancing.
This move drew immediate skepticism from within the legal community.
Noted law professor and blogger Eric Goldman wrote of SESTA’s creation that “The bill would expose Internet entrepreneurs to additional unclear criminal risk, and that would chill socially beneficial entrepreneurship well outside the bill’s target zone.” He also pointed out that existing criminal laws already do most of what FOSTA-SESTA is designed to do — an argument bolstered by the fact that as recently as this month, Backpage was still facing legal troubles under existing laws that exempt it from 230 protection.The task of identifying and effectively prosecuting sex traffickers continues to be challenging, however. Of these, the Department of Justice initiated just 282 federal investigations involving human trafficking, and ultimately opened just 266 prosecutions for charges predominantly involving sex trafficking.Overall, of 553 defendants who were prosecuted on a range of smuggling charges including sex trafficking, just 471 sex traffickers were convicted, with sentences ranging from one month to life in prison.It’s also seen numerous controversies related to illegal sex work; authorities have arrested individuals using it to pay for sex, and Backpage has aided law enforcement in investigations into ads on its site.In the past, authorities have taken down similar websites through targeted raids.There is ample evidence, both anecdotal and researched, that giving sex workers a way to advertise, vet, and choose clients online makes them much safer than they are without an online system.