Girl Talk: House of Representatives passes controversial sex trafficking laws

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Girl Talk: House of Representatives passes controversial sex trafficking laws

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U.S. lawmakers passed two news acts, FOSTA and SESTA to help combat internal sex trafficking in April. These acts were passed by the House of Representatives with a vote of 388-25. These acts, standing for “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)” and “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA)” and are designed to end and monitor sex trafficking online.
 
From a governmental perspective, these two pieces of legislation are doing the general public a great service by further regulating online websites such as “Backpage.com” that allows ads to be posted selling sex. Yet, these acts go beyond just preventing sex trafficking. FOSTA and SESTA create an exception to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
 
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was created in 1996 just as the internet was surfacing. This act stands as one of the most important laws protecting freedom of speech and expression on the internet. The act ultimately states that a website cannot be responsible for anything that is posted by a third-party on their page. This act allows companies such as Youtube to offer millions of comments and hours of content.
 
The first problem with FOSTA and SESTA is that overriding section 230 holds the websites responsible for the content they are posting. At first glance, that seems like a perfect solution to preventing sex trafficking. However, according to news and media company, Vox, “Some sex workers say it will actually put them in further danger and push illicit activity into even deeper corners of the internet, and free internet proponents worry that platforms might censor or pull content preemptively just to avoid risk.”
 
Additionally, a guest writer was published in the Huffington Post giving a current sex worker a chance to voice her opinion about the new legislation. Laura LeMoon, the guest writer, shared her life story with readers of the article. LeMoon was a survivor of sex trafficking and is now a homeless sex worker. LeMoon argues that the new acts being passed make it “almost impossible for an independent sex worker to continue working” and “further limits our [sex workers] options for income and puts us on the fast track to even harsher marginalization.”
 
LeMoon goes on to explain the benefits of websites such as Backpage.com and how it is a safer experience for people who are voluntarily working within the sex work industry. They are able to screen their clients more in depth and have the ability to reply with a confident no and not have to fear for their lives. The further scrutiny of these websites also pushes sex workers to the streets, leaving them homeless and under the control of urban pimps.
 
The United States is not the only country having to deal with regulating sex work, prostitution, and sex trafficking. Countries like Sweden and the Netherlands have conducted countless policy experiments to combat sex trafficking and prostitution within their countries. In the 1990’s Sweden passed an act that made it illegal to purchase sex, but legal to sell sex. According to Nicholas Kristof, author of “Half the Sky”, 81% of Swedes approved of this law and it dropped prostitution within Sweden by 41% over the extension of 5 years.
 
The act also made Sweden a less attractive location for sex traffickers due to the falling prices of sex within the nation. The decriminalization of prostitution and consensual sex work inherently lowers the popularity of the industry which decreases the overall number of people being forced into the sex work industry.
 
These controversial acts passed by the United States will further isolate current sex workers and will only make current online sex traffickers harder to find. However, getting rid of large companies notorious for fostering platforms that allow sex trafficking to occur may begin to bring attention to the surface problems that FOSTA and SESTA do not solve.