Craigslist and Reddit shutdowns are wins in the government’s war against sex
First, Craigslist yanked down its personals section. Then, Reddit started destroying its own sex-related communities, including Escorts, Male Escorts, SugarDaddy and Hookers.
For many sex workers, this is a nightmare come to life. Without the Internet to help advertise their work and vet their clients’ background, they’ll be forced into life-threatening working conditions.
This Internet overhaul is the aftermath of SESTA, an anti-sex-trafficking bill that passed the Senate this past week. SESTA makes web sites liable for what its users post online, and any company that “knowingly assists, facilitates, or supports sex trafficking” can face criminal prosecution.
Unfortunately, because the new bill doesn’t differentiate between sex trafficking and consensual sex work, it endangers voluntary sex workers’ safety, source of income and quality of life. This may seem like an unintended consequence, but sex workers see it as something else — another calculated attack in the long war against the erotic service industry.
“Prostitution is the primary target,” explains Domina Elle, an erotic service provider, professional dominatrix, and activist in the movement to decriminalize sex work. “Concern over sex trafficking is by and large a ruse being used to attack prostitution.”
SESTA isn’t the first piece of legislation that fails to differentiate between forced and consensual sex acts. In 2014, the same logic was used to shut down MyRedbook.com, a popular sex worker ad site, and in 2017, Backpage.com, both of which put thousands in the sex industry out of work.
For years, law enforcement and legislators have played a game of whack-a-mole with online adult advertising — when one site is shut down, two more sites exactly like it pop up. However, SESTA may finally rig the game in the government’s favor.
“If you were the owner of a platform which hosts third party content, and you could be sued or even imprisoned over what gets posted, what would you do?” Domina Elle says.
“A smart person who wants to avoid being saddled with additional costs to accommodate an illegal market is going to filter out, limit, ban any content which could result in damage to them. We do not matter to them.”
In the face of SESTA, Craigslist and Reddit were quick to cover their ass. Twitter, Google, Instagram and Facebook, as well as website hosting platforms like Wix and Godaddy, will likely make the same choice: avoid liability by tearing away the resources that protect erotic service providers.
“Will anyone be spared?” Domina Elle asks. “Such as Dominatrices who often tell themselves what they do is ‘different’ from other erotic services providers? Or legal forms of erotic services such as cam and porn performers?”
“Let’s get real, I’m pretty damn certain it’s a big NO. Platforms aren’t going to spend money and time creating systems to differentiate because prostitution might be happening and there’s no sure way to determine otherwise, now is there?”
In protest against SESTA, sex workers have taken to social media, using the hashtag #LetUsSurvive to highlight how online platforms have literally saved their lives.
Domina Elle prefers to use the phrase #LetUsProvide, because she’s sick of sex workers being portrayed as victims. After all, it shouldn’t matter why they do the work — they have the right to do the work.