Sex Workers Win Major Decision in Federal Court

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work
Contact Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications
kaytlin@dswork.org

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
January 27, 2020

Sex Workers Win Major Decision in Federal Court

Sex workers and their allies have won an important victory in their ongoing constitutional challenge to FOSTA/SESTA, a federal law that is having a destructive impact on the health and safety of sex workers and their communities.

“This is the most important case pending in federal court,” said Kaytlin Bailey, communications director for DSW. “Sex workers are feeling the brunt of this law now, but so are harm reduction advocates, massage therapists, and human rights organizations.”

At issue is the FOSTA/SESTA law, enacted in 2018, which imposes severe criminal penalties for the operators of web sites that allow discussions of prostitution, which caused many dating web sites to close.  As a result, sex workers who had been using websites to schedule and screen their clients have since resorted to more dangerous tactics, such as soliciting on the street or relying on third parties such as pimps.

“Allowing sex workers to schedule and screen their clients online improves the health and safety of our communities,” said Melissa Broudo, DSW’s staff attorney who coordinated DSW’s amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs.

Studies show that when Craigslist Erotic Services allowed adults to negotiate consensual sex with each other, the female homicide rate dropped by 17%. When sex work was decriminalized in Rhode Island from 2003 to 2009, reported rapes dropped by 30% and gonorrhea by 40%.

“The evidence couldn’t be more clear,” said Broudo. “Allowing adult consensual sex workers and their clients to connect online makes the work safer.”

On Friday, January 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs’ case can proceed to trial, where a federal judge will decide whether FOSTA/SESTA interferes with the constitutional rights of website operators and their users.

“Sex workers have been waiting for our day in court for over 100 years,” said Bailey.

Opinion: Sex Workers Win Major Decision in Federal Court

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
January 24, 2020

Sex workers have been waiting for our day in court for over 100 years. And finally, we’re going to get it. On January 24, sex workers and their allies won a significant victory in our ongoing constitutional challenge to FOSTA/SESTA, a federal law that attempts to erase the oldest profession from the Internet.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs’ case can proceed to trial, where a federal judge will decide whether FOSTA/SESTA interferes with the constitutional rights of website operators and their users. If you use the Internet, this law affects you. And if people’s health and safety is important to you, you should be siding with the sex workers in this case.

FOSTA/SESTA, enacted in 2018, imposes severe criminal penalties for web site operators that allow discussions of prostitution. The law is being broadly interpreted to include massage therapists, harm reduction service providers, and sex worker rights activists.

Sex workers who had been using websites to schedule and screen their clients have since resorted to more dangerous tactics, soliciting on the street or relying on third parties, such as pimps. Some are using offshore platforms on the dark web that, unlike Backpage and Craigslist, do not cooperate with law enforcement.

Prohibition doesn’t work. The more we push the sex industry underground, the more dangerous it becomes. A meta-analysis reviewing 30 years of data published by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and John Hopkins University found overwhelming evidence that repressive policing of prostitution causes less health and safety among sex workers. We cannot help people we are trying to eradicate.

FOSTA/SESTA attempted to erase places on the Internet that sex workers had been using to mitigate the risks of our trade for years. Immediately after this law took effect, the St. James Infirmary in San Francisco reported a 700% increase in street-based prostitution. Sex workers and harm reduction advocates have reported a marked rise in homicides, suicides, overdoses, and desperate people doing desperate things to survive.

Studies show that when Craigslist Erotic Services allowed adults to negotiate consensual sex with each other from the privacy of their homes, the female homicide rate dropped by 17%. When sex work was decriminalized in Rhode Island from 2003 to 2009, reported rapes dropped by 30% and gonorrhea by 40%.

Allowing sex workers to find and negotiate with potential clients online before exposing ourselves to risk reduces violence and STDs. This is not conjecture or theory — studies prove what sex workers have been saying for a century.

On January 25, 1917, 300 prostitutes in San Francisco marched in the street to protest the imminent eviction of the brothels where they lived and conducted their work. They told the moral reformers and politicians that eviction would only make their lives worse and their work more dangerous. They were right. And on January 24 — 103 years later — federal judges gave sex workers and our allies the chance to make our case in court.

-Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications for Decriminalize Sex Work

Bill To Study SESTA’s Harms To Be Introduced in Congress

December 2, 2019

Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) , who was one of only 25 votes opposing FOSTA/SESTA (SESTA) in 2018, has announced a bill to study this new federal law. The bill, which would cause the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study SESTA’s harmful effects, would “establish the risks sex workers face on a day to day basis: the risk of violence, safety, [and] dignity.” There is no evidence that SESTA has reduced trafficking, while there is significant evidence it causes increased violence and economic desperation.

In addition to broader concerns about SESTA’s limitation of free speech on the internet, the law negatively impacts sex workers’ ability to protect themselves against violence and predators posing as clients. By restricting online advertisements of sexual services, SESTA removes safety networks used to vet potential clients and drives sex workers onto the streets.

In a Rolling Stone article, Tamika Spellman of HIPS DC estimated that there had been a 75-80% increase in street-based sex work since SESTA became law. Maxine Doogan, president of ESPLERP, says that SESTA has caused sex workers to lose their housing and has reduced workers’ bargaining power when negotiating with clients, forcing them to make riskier decisions.

Lived experience is backed up by hard data. A 2019 study by economists Scott Cunningham, Gregory DeAngelo, and John Tripp showed that the former “erotic services” section on Craigslist, a platform for sex workers to advertise and screen clients, reduced the overall female homicide rate by a staggering 10-17%. This finding comports with economic theory: Reducing the restrictions on any industry expands available economic opportunities and increases bargaining power, particularly for those at the bottom of the economic scale. With the balance of power shifted towards workers, those they interact with change their behavior.

Despite ample evidence of SESTA’s harmful effects, there is a lack of comprehensive research into the scope of SESTA’s impact. A short survey of trafficking-victim service providers, conducted by the Samaritan Women in July 2018, found disastrous consequences. Shelters have seen an uptick in aggravated assaults since the law was implemented and have had to increase capacity to meet the growing need.

Violence, abuse, and the number of victim/exploiter relationships have gone up according to service providers. There is no way to determine if SESTA is the direct cause, but the correlation is clear. One interviewee said that “pimps have been actively seeking out prior victims with the promise of clients since it’s more difficult for those involved in the industry to find customers on their own.”

Law enforcement officers working in anti-trafficking, who relied on sites like Backpage.com for intelligence gathering and sting operations, have had to abandon several pending investigations. As trafficking and violence escalates, law enforcement’s front line of defense has been severely compromised. Additional research is needed to asses the longer-term impact of these harms.

With the Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s constitutional challenge to SESTA still pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals, winning this case would be an essential step in potentially overturning the law. Rep. Khanna’s bill is a historic step towards incorporating the voices of impacted community members into federal legislation. Visit DSW’s Take Action page to contact your U.S. House member in support of this vital legislation.

Marchers in Las Vegas demonstrate against SESTA in June. (Photo: John Locher/Bangor Daily News)

U.S. Rep. Khanna announced his bill on December 2.

DSW Supports the Fight Against FOSTA in U.S. Court of Appeals

September 20, 2019

Earlier this year, DSW filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit brought against the U.S. government by the Woodhull Freedom Foundation (WFF), Human Rights Watch, The Internet Archive, and two other plaintiffs in reaction to the terrible federal law known as the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA). FOSTA chills speech and harms sex workers. It makes it harder for people to protect themselves from violence and personal risk and violates constitutional rights protected by the First Amendment.

The court wrongly dismissed the lawsuit, but the plaintiffs appealed. After a year of fighting for the case to be heard, DSW and our plaintiff allies finally got our day in court: On September 20, attorneys for WFF and the other plaintiffs addressed a panel of three appellate judges. They asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to halt the future enforcement of FOSTA, meaning that ideally, people would no longer be arrested.

Kaytlin Bailey attended the hearing on September 20. No decision has been issued at this time, and it may take months for the appellate court to rule. WFF was joined by fellow plaintiffs from SWOP Behind Bars, related organizations, and brave individuals who put their reputations and livelihoods on the line by articulating for the courts how FOSTA/SESTA has impacted them. The current position of the federal government is that issues of free speech, sex worker safety, and trafficking are not impacted by FOSTA/SESTA — and that the law simply disrupts trafficking without endangering individual rights or safety.

After the oral arguments attorneys, plaintiffs, and advocates, including Bailey, gathered for a debriefing. Learn more about the case in a Peepshow Podcast interview with Ricci Levy. Our coalition is waiting for the judges’ decision. No matter the outcome, we will continue to fight this transparently unconstitutional law.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey is pictured with Ricci Levy, WFF’s CEO, president and former executive director, named the lead plaintiff in the Woodhull v. USA case, as well as the team from Davis Wright Tremain Law Firm, litigating the suit. (L to R: Larry Walter, Ricci Levy, Robert Corn-Revere, Kaytlin Bailey and Ronald G London; Photo: DSW, 2019)

DSW Supports the Continued Legal Fight Against FOSTA/SESTA

August 23, 2019

Next month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the appeal of Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al v. The United States of America, a case that seeks to challenge the constitutionality of the Fighting Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). FOSTA modified the Communications Decency Act Section 230 to permit civil and criminal suits against third-party platforms/websites that promote or permit prostitution or trafficking. DSW, along with many other sex workers’ rights, civil liberties, and human rights organizations vehemently oppose this law. Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s initial challenge to FOSTA was denied in U.S. District Court in 2018 on the grounds of standing, and they have since filed this appeal. DSW General Counsel Melissa Broudo co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of a dozen allied organizations in support of Woodhull’s challenge to the law back in February of this year.

Plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a preliminary injunction and put a halt to future enforcement of FOSTA, meaning no one could be arrested and charged until the case is decided. The chilling effect is undeniable and has already threatened the livelihood of sex workers and pushed many to work in less safe conditions. This is a bad and dangerous law.

DSW General Counsel Melissa Broudo co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of a dozen allied organizations.

DSW & allies hold SESTA/FOSTA panel at SXSW

March 11, 2019

DSW teamed up with Alex Andrews from SWOP Behind Bars, Dan Savage, Larry Walters and River del Lano from Uncaged Love to discuss the dangerous implications of SESTA/FOSTA at a panel at SXSW in Austin. SESTA/FOSTA was the federal bill signed into law on April 11, 2018, which shut down services sex workers used to schedule and screen their clients.

The panel focused on the ongoing harm that SESTA/FOSTA is causing to the sex work community, in addition to the long-term implications for a broad range of civil liberties. Panelists also focused on the ongoing multi-pronged strategies to challenge or repeal the law—and the increased energy and urgency the legislation created within the growing sex worker rights movement.

Dan Savage lent his expertise as a longtime LGBTQI activist and sex educator. Alex Andrews spoke to and for incarcerated sex workers, and Larry Walters is currently embroiled in litigation challenging SESTA/FOSTA's constitutionality, echoing the other panelists' observation that its simply indefensible.

You can listen to Kaytlin Bailey and Dan Savage discuss Decriminalize Sex Work on episode 649 of Savage Lovecast!

L to R back row: River del Llano, Alex Andrews, J Leigh Brantly. L to R front row: Melissa Broudo, Kaytlin Bailey, Larry Walters.

Prostitution Advocacy Group Launches National Campaign To Decriminalize Sex Work

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work

Contact Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications
kaytlin@dswork.org
NEW YORK, NY
***EMBARGOED UNTIL 5:00 p.m. ET on SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3***

Prostitution Advocacy Group Launches National Campaign to Decriminalize Sex Work

In response to the new federal law that resulted in widespread censorship of websites that include sexual content, a new national organization has formed to repeal this law and decriminalize sex work nationwide.

The mission of Decriminalize Sex Work — a new national organization with offices in Austin, New York City, and Washington, D.C. — is “to end the prohibition of prostitution in the United States.” The organization’s national strategy is to inform the public about the harms caused by prohibition, with a focus on lobbying state governments to remove penalties for adult prostitution and all other forms of consensual sex work if conducted in private.

The organization’s ideal state legislation removes all penalties for consensual, adult sex work if conducted in private residences, hotel rooms, or licensed business locations known as brothels. Nevada, which is the only state to allow any form of legal prostitution, permits paid sex to occur only in brothels that are located in rural counties — not Las Vegas or Reno hotel rooms — which is why Nevada has the highest arrest rate among the 50 states.

“Dozens of allied organizations are already doing great work advocating for decriminalization,” said Kaytlin Bailey, communications director for Decriminalize Sex Work. “What makes our organization different is that Donald Trump’s new law inspired a California philanthropist to donate sufficient seed money to pay for a full-time staff and lobbying firms even before our organization’s public launch today.”

The objectionable federal law is known as SESTA-FOSTA. On the Senate side, the bill’s name was “Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act,” and on the House side the bill was called “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.” The two bills were combined into one and enacted into law by Congress and President Trump on April 11, 2018.

“Since the federal government banned adult matchmaking on the web, many sex workers have left their homes and hit the streets as a way of advertising their services,” said Bailey. “BackPage and other transparent websites often cooperated with law enforcement to find minors and other trafficking victims, in addition to providing a mutual review system to protect people from predators who pose as clients and escorts.”

DSW’s team includes a criminal-defense lawyer who has advocated for and defended sex workers and survivors of trafficking for 12 years; a social worker who has worked with humantrafficking victims for 20 years; a former sex worker (Kaytlin Bailey); three activists who come from the marijuana-legalization movement; and a pair of bipartisan lobbying firms in Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

“The new federal prohibition brought together a critical mass of money and activists that is now snowballing and will soon cause an avalanche of legal reforms across the country,” said Bailey.

DSW cited numerous reasons for how society would benefit from making adult, consensual prostitution legal instead of criminal:

   * The vast majority of paid sexual activities involve consenting adults. Removing these adults from the criminal system will free up law enforcement to focus on the minority of sex crimes that involve minors, force, and fraud, which includes human trafficking.

   * By allowing sex workers to advertise their adult services discreetly on the web and elsewhere, sex workers will no longer need to “advertise” themselves on street corners, which will be a boon to community groups that complain about public activity but are unconcerned about private sex.

* If prostitution is no longer a crime, sex workers and their colleagues will be liberated to report human traffickers and other predators to police without fear of themselves being arrested.

“Back in the 1920s, it was the prohibition of alcohol — not the use of alcohol — that created public violence that threatened the safety of alcohol users and the community at large,” said Bailey. “Today, the prohibition of sex work — not the simple act of paid sex — actually increases the power of human traffickers, causes harm to minors, creates arrest records for prostitutes and survivors of trafficking who are otherwise law-abiding adults, and threatens the community’s health at large.”

The sex-workers rights movement benefits from the expansive, international research on this topic. Just last month, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published research showing that sex workers suffering under repressive policing are three times more likely to experience violence as those who live in countries like New Zealand, where prostitution is no longer a crime. This study bolsters the recommendations and official policies of the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, and the ACLU, all of which support ending criminalization.

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