F-Word: SESTA Doesn't Keep Us Safe

Women’s history month is over, but we didn’t emerge unscathed. As often happens lawmakers used the month to get a little news glow by doing something awful in the name of protecting women from something terrible.

This March 21, the Senate approved the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, a version of which has already passed in the House.

Sex trafficking is terrible. Everyone’s against it. (Actually I’m against all sorts of forced work, but that’s another story.) What’s awful is what SESTA does, which is encourage big-tech companies to robo-police the internet, with extreme filters that won’t know a survivor story from a sex ad.  

Spew hate, teach terror, harass, dox, pimp, meddle with elections? There’s no question bad people do bad things online. SESTA supporters say their bill will make those things easier to stop by making platform owners criminally liable for the acts of their platform’s users.  

The thing is, we already have laws on the books to prosecute those things. The biggest offenders have always had the most brilliant lawyers. It's the prosecution that's the problem.

Under SESTA, tech giants like Google and Facebook will bring in more big-dollar lawyers to defend themselves, and send out more aggressive robocops to police everyone else.

The result, civil liberties groups predict, will be more online censorship that will result in less safety, ironically enough, for sex workers and people who try to help sex trafficking victims escape.  That’s why a large array of trafficking survivors and their advocates, as well as the National Organization for Women, LGBTQ groups and free speech advocates like the Electronic Freedom Frontier and the ACLU oppose it.

A tragedy of unintended consequences? Possibly, except the consequences are utterly predictable.  I think of our report on the anti-sex trafficking law in Alaska that led to the prosecution of women for trafficking themselves and each other when they teamed up in mutual aid groups for greater control and safety. Criminalized for helping each other, they were put back out in the streets alone and terrified.

Equality, liberty, fellowship - these aren’t strange things to want —  but they’re awfully hard to get from the white capitalist patriarchy. As we should all know by now, old police with new powers have never worked out well for the most vulnerable.

Now we’re looking to a signing ceremony in which the world’s most dangerous predator, President Trump, signs an anti-predation law. Spare us from patriarchs promising protections.

Support organizations like Red Umbrella Hosting resisting SESTA and get involved with the International Day of Lobbying for Sex Workers on June 1. 

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