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THE SEX FILES: The Battle of SESTA and FOSTA

I used to live across the street from this old guy. He was fond of saying “There is the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy Way.” Although I’m still not so sure what all he meant I always think of this quip when I encounter some situation where people are lining up across a great divide, giving what sounds like salient arguments from both sides.

The recent SESTA/FOSTA controversy seems to bring me to this kind of teeter-tottering pause.

If you didn’t know about it, last week a whole bunch of people-manly women-in a whole bunch of U.S. cities-most notably Oakland, C.A.,-walked for “International Whores Day.” Raising signs that read STIGMA KILLS,” “MY BODY, NOT YOUR CHOICE,” “SEX WORK ≠ TRAFFICKING” these people were directly expressing their outrage over the new SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) laws. You know how this stuff goes, the government loves to link shit together, sneak in one bill while it does another, so these two have been linked and are soon coming to a net near you!

Here is some of the actual language of the laws:

(Sec. 3) The bill amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both—on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.

Additionally, it establishes enhanced penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 25 years, or both—for a person who commits the offense in one of the following aggravating circumstances: (1) promotes or facilitates the prostitution of five or more persons, or (2) acts with reckless disregard that such conduct contributes to sex trafficking.

(Sec. 5) The bill amends the federal criminal code to define a phrase related to the prohibition on sex trafficking. Currently, it is a crime to knowingly benefit from participation in a venture that engages in sex trafficking. This bill defines “participation in a venture” to mean knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating a sex trafficking violation.

I happen to know from direct experience-writing for some escorts in this country-that female sex workers are finding it very hard to advertise presently online due to these new restrictions, as well as having lost sources where they can vet potential clients, a certain safety concern. Critics also site that the language in the laws leaves quite the grey area. And overall, the protestors this weekend were TRUMPeting (sorry, I couldn’t avoid the pun) how both FOSTA and SESTA increase censorship.

For the first time in twenty years, FOSTA makes it so website owners can now be held accountable for acts of sex trafficking and prostitution that occur on interactive computer services they own. “Interactive computer service,” means anything we can (go ahead say it with me) interact with online. That includes lots of sites, even newsgroups and Wiki-like places.

Be I an owner of one, might I have a reason to be skittish?

There is also concern that with the overly complex algorithms now to be put into place, lots of content could be censored that is not in violation. This would be as much an infringement of free speech as the government trying to halt commerce (wouldn’t be the first time, regardless of the political party in power, that the old coots up on the hill have tried to get their hands into our pockets).

And for many, that “knowingly facilitating” part in Sec. 5 above could lead to site owners and CEO’s merely taking their hands and eyes off what they have up, worrying that they in no way want to even get close to their sites any longer. Which would have the direct opposite effect of us all trying to keep an eye on sex trafficking, which I have yet to see anybody on any side say they are for.

But supporters of the new legislation, the Internet Association (made up of companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix) and even Amy Schumer, say these new measures will help cut down on sex trafficking (see her PSA here).

Anything cutting down on kids getting raped, has got to be a good thing, right?

This is a very complicated issue, and a pea brain like mine really can’t get through the muck and mire. I figured one shouldn’t ignore something “International Whores Day,” so at least I did my duty to let you know it had happened. But look out, changes are a’coming; whether they are good or bad, I’ll let you decide.

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