Sex Workers Are Canaries In The Free Speech Coal Mine
Marginalized groups often act as “patient zero” for regressive new laws, and a new bill that cuts away broad protections for online speech is no different.
You may not have noticed, or you may be pretending you didn’t notice, but Congress last week voted to reverse decades of legal protection for free speech online, all in the name of targeting sex workers.
These type of things always start off targeting the voiceless — people whose warnings of what’s to come are rarely heard. But they never end there.
The new bill, misleadingly sold as the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (SESTA), is a disaster for our community — but not just our community. Sex workers are the canaries in the digital coal mine, and SESTA, if it isn’t fought and reversed, is a disaster for all kinds of online speech.
For sex workers, SESTA cuts to the heart of the core principle of consent. Advertising your services online means finding customers without the need to work out of “pick-up bars” — which police frequently target — or on the street, where the ability to screen clients is virtually nonexistent. If you’re a sex worker who wants to work indoors, in an environment that you control, you need the internet.