In 2018, Congress passed FOSTA/SESTA, a law that expanded criminal and civil liabilities for websites containing information related to commercial sex. Since the enactment of FOSTA/SESTA numerous sites have shut down, changed their operations, and began kicking sex workers or suspected sex workers off their platforms. In addition, just one week before FOSTA/SESTA passed was seized by law enforcement, displacing even more sex workers. Online platforms have been an important way that sex workers access life-saving safety resources, screen potential clients, and maintain autonomy to work independently. Since 2018, regulation of internet platforms has only become a larger debate – but without the basic information of how marginalized people are using these platforms, and what happens when they disappear.

The SAFE SEX Worker Study Act asks for a national, robust study to understand the impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of people in transactional sex when losing access to these platforms.

When these opportunities were lost, sex workers lost the ability to employ harm reduction techniques such as client screening and negotiation and share community knowledge. This study will assess the impact of losing access to internet platforms on homelessness, violence, vulnerability to HIV/STIs, and exploitation, and highlight the particular effects on LGBTQI+ individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, rural populations, Tribal communities, undocumented and documented foreign nationals, and people experiencing exploitation and trafficking.

The most marginalized members of our society frequently engage in sex work because of discrimination and limited access to resources. In the 2015 United States Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 19% of respondents reported having exchanged sex for resources, such as money, food or a place to sleep. Black (42%) American Indian (28%), multiracial (27%), Latina (23%), and Asian (22%), were more likely to have participated in sex work than the overall sample. Sex workers are often care givers, students, people experiencing physical, mental and emotional disabilities, people who are formerly incarcerated, and migrants – all who experience unique barriers in accessing formal employment and resources. The SSWSA will take a deeper look at different sex worker subpopulations who experience disproportionally high rates of violence and discrimination.   

The Impact of FOSTA/SESTA on Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is one of the ways that people in commercial sex experience harm and violence. Trafficking is the exploitation of a person through force, fraud or coercion by a third party and is not unique to the sex trade. A key objective of the SAFE SEX Worker Study Act is to understand how the loss of online platforms impacts the occurrence and experience of trafficking and exploitation. Researchers will examine any changes in reliance on third parties, and experiences of exploitation, two essential elements of trafficking, as well as looking at people experiencing exploitation as a key subgroup. This bill takes the bold step of including multiple perspectives and experiences to better understand the widespread impact of anti-trafficking laws, considering the varied and diverse experiences of people in transactional sex.

Despite being directly impacted by trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts alike, sex workers are regularly excluded from discussions about trafficking. It is time to include a seat at the table for those with direct knowledge and experience in order to build sustainable and nuanced anti-trafficking solutions.

Organizations which support the SAFE SEX Worker Study Act

(HR 5448, 116th Congress)

  • ABC Atlanta LLC
  • Advocates for Youth
  • Advocating Opportunity
  • AIDS Alabama
  • AIDS Foundation of Chicago
  • AIDS United
  • American Atheists
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • APLA Health
  • Athlete Ally
  • Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition
  • BiNet USA
  • Black and Pink
  • Black and Pink, Boston Chapter
  • Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Center for HIV Law and Policy
  • Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health
  • Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School
  • Charm City Care Connection
  • Collective Action for Safe Spaces
  • Counter Narrative Project
  • DecrimNY
  • Determine Your Destiny
  • Drug Policy Alliance
  • Equality North Carolina
  • Families For Justice As Healing
  • FORGE, Inc.
  • Free Speech Coalition (FSC)
  • GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality
  • Harm Reduction Coalition
  • HIPS
  • HIVenas Abiertas: A Network of Latinx People Living with HIV
  • Human Rights Campaign
  • LaGender Inc
  • Lambda Legal
  • Massachusetts Bail Fund
  • Mazzoni Center
  • The Moore-O’Neal Law Group, LLC
  • National Center for Transgender Equality
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights
  • The National Equality Action Team
  • National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
  • No Justice No Pride
  • Oasis Legal Services
  • Peer Wellness & Recovery Services, Inc.
  • Positive Women’s Network – USA
  • Positively Trans
  • Promundo-US
  • Rad Care
  • Red Canary Song
  • Reframe Health and Justice
  • San Francisco AIDS Foundation
  • Sero Project
  • Sex Workers Outreach Project, USA
  • Sex Workers Outreach Project, Baltimore Chapter
  • Sex Workers Outreach Project, Behind Bars
  • Sex Workers Outreach Project, Sacramento Chapter
  • SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change
  • Sister’s Unchained
  • St. James Infirmary
  • Support Ho(s)e
  • Transcending Barriers
  • Transgender Law Center
  • Treatment Action Group (TAG)
  • URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity
  • Voices of Hope
  • Whitman-Walker Health
  • Whose Corner is it Anyway
  • Woodhull Freedom Foundation