Sex workers, allies rally for decrim bill and against SESTA/FOSTA

Video highlights of the rally

On the 2nd of June, sex workers and their allies rallied in Ward 6, home of DC Councilmember Charles Allen. Allen will decide the fate of a bill introduced by Councilmember David Grosso to decriminalize sex work in DC. The closure of sites like in the wake of the SESTA/FOSTA bills has created a crisis, with many sex workers becoming homeless as there is less money to be made working the streets as well as much greater risk.

At least two of the speakers ripped into the SESTA/FOSTA bills and the closure of by the US government. Whatever may have gone on with that site and human traffickers, the reality was that millions of consensual sex workers who work for themselves relied on the site as the safest way to reach their clients and now are being forced back to the streets. One of the speakers from No Justice No Pride said her organization has been forced into an emergency response mode, finding housing and jobs for transgender folks who have lost their only source of survival income and been evicted due to the Backpage shutdown.

During the mid to late 2000's the rise of first Craigslist and later Backpage "dating" personal ads allowed sex workers to abandon working dangerous streets and back alleys and rely on online classifieds to reach their customers. This also made it much easier for female sex workers to work independently, to such an extent that the Economist once ran a cover story about it. The cover image that month showed a woman in the sex trade in a red dress with a set of bolt cutters in her hand, walking away from the severed remnants of a ball and chain. Now Congress has locked that ball and chain firmly back onto the ankles of millions of sex workers. Oh well-prosecutors and courts seem to get off on locking things to people's ankles, notably GPS devices and leg irons.

While websites outside the US and beyond the reach Donald Trump still can and do accept such classfieds, most are far more expensive than Backpage or Craigslist ever were. One participant in the rally said one of the European sites is charging 20% of the take from every successful transaction as their fee!

On the streets, the risks of arrest, assaults, and armed violence are increased beyond measure. For transgender sex workers the situation is worse yet. In online personals, transgender women can advertise openly and avoid risks from transphobic men. On the street this is much more difficult and transphobic men are known for committing murder. For all sex workers, it's much harder to check potential customers against "bad john" lists if all you have is a phone, a database of hundreds of photos of abusive men loaded, and seconds to make a decision.

On top of all that, being forced back to the streets means the risks of arrests, assaults, rapes, and extortion by police officers has to be added to the risks posed by all other criminals on the streets. If David Grosso's bill passes, police won't be added to the hazards already faced by the hard-pressed people in our city. In addition, those who do physical harm to sex workers will no longer have prostitution laws as a deterrent protecting them from being reported by their victims.

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