How to Support Survivors: FOSTA/SESTA

A couple of weeks ago, Congress passed the FOSTA-SESTA bill and the President signed it into law. If you do a quick google search on this bill, you will see a host of articles written on why this bill is controversial.


It is being seen as an infringement on freedom of speech. It is being seen as censorship. It is being criticized because it will make websites and companies purge data even though it has nothing to do with sex trafficking for fear of being sued. It is being criticized because these websites were ways for law enforcement to track down victims, and now they will have a much harder time doing that. It is criticized by sex workers that their safe platforms for their work have been stripped away. It is criticized as harming sex workers and putting their lives in danger. It is being criticized because this bill does not actually curb sex trafficking.


But that was not the intent of this bill.


I think that is the critique that really gets under my skin, hearing from people, "This won't stop sex trafficking." That was not why this bill was written, and as much as these articles say that this was what the bill intended to do - that also is not true.


The intent of the bill is to give victims of sex trafficking a chance to have justice sought against those who profited off them. Backpage knowingly helped advertisers (i.e. traffickers) change language in ads so that underage girls and boys would still be able to be posted up online and sold for sex. These victims now have a chance to seek justice for what was done to them.


This month, we want to focus here on how we can support survivors, and so I thought I would offer up some thoughts in response to all of the critiques and criticism that is out there about FOSTA-SESTA.


When this bill was passed, every survivor I know that I spoke to about this said how happy this made them. None of them said that this would stop the cycle of exploitation, none of them said that this would end trafficking. They just smiled, laughed, hugged me, and said, "Finally. It feels like someone out there is finally seeing me and the hell I went through."


It gives them a chance to seek justice. It gives them a chance to be seen. 


This bill will not stop trafficking, but it will bring justice to those who were abused and sold. And for those out there that are willingly selling themselves, lobbying for sex work, and saying that this bill is bringing harm, I truly do have to say that I am sorry for that. I want justice to be able to be sought for those who were victims, and I want to support them in their desire for this justice. I do support survivors first, and I always will. Therefore, I am afraid that we are at odds when it comes to this bill.


But I believe that what you call work is a result of the systemic problem that we have where women continue to be paid less then their male counterparts, unless it involves selling their bodies as commodities; where the on-roads for those who have felonies, misdemeanors, and other charges on their records are non-existent; where services and government aid only enlarges the economic gaps. These things need to be addressed, because the fact is that whenever an industry that sells sex exists, there will always be victims in it; therefore, I will always be at odds against it.


I remember watching the first round of hearings against the heads of Backpage, watching each of them take the fifth. My blood was boiling as I watched these men use this right to stay silent. I cried for the 12-year olds that were being sold. I cried because they were voiceless, there was no way for justice to come for them. But now, this gives them a chance for it. 


And so, I proudly support survivors, and I proudly smile with them as they breathe a sigh of relief - someone does see you, someone is fighting for you, justice will be given to you.


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We are grateful for the partnership of the Women's Fund of Essex County as we work together to promote solutions for survivors of sexual exploitation.