A new bill that has passed in the US, ostensibly seeking to fight sex trafficking and sex work, is having repercussions for sex workers and other people in Australia.
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act—known jointly as SESTA-FOSTA—conflate trafficking with consensual sex work, and represent a crackdown on all kinds of sexual content online.
Sexual content even unrelated to sex work is being removed.
In the US, Craigslist has removed its entire personals section; whether the Australian website follows suit remains to be seen.
Classifieds website Backpage, which is popular for sex work advertising, has removed its adult sections in the US, and in Australia ads can now only be purchased using cryptocurrency.
Twitter and Facebook accounts discussing sex are reportedly being banned.
Even furry personals website Pounced has been shut down in the wake of SESTA-FOSTA passing.
Cameron Cox, CEO of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) in Sydney, said this isn’t the first time that legislative changes in the US have impacted Australian sex workers using the internet.
Gay sex work website rentboy.com was shut down in 2015 after US authorities raided its headquarters.
“Sex workers are feeling that they’re being backed into a corner,” Cox told the Star Observer.
“Another website is gone, you can’t use your MasterCard to pay for your advertising and you have to go out and get Bitcoin, which is complicated.
“Now this comes along and if you’ve got a US-based website you’ve got to move off pretty quick smart.
“People are worried about Twitter and Facebook.
“It’s coming at us from all sides.”
Cox said a major role of sex worker organisations like SWOP has shifted from sexual health education to support for dealing with the fallout from the US.
“We’re teaching people how to use Bitcoin instead of how to put on condoms,” he said.
“People want to eat… it’s important that people work.”
The shutting down of online discussion about sex work is affecting workers’ ability to talk about important matters like safe working practices.
“It’s taking away those spaces where people were able to exchange information privately,” Cox said.
He said that sex worker support organisations like SWOP in the US are having their websites shut down.
Microsoft has even banned swearing and nudity in Skype and emails as part of the crackdown on adult content.
Sex workers and others opposed to the bill are calling for SESTA-FOSTA to be repealed.