June 23, 2020
On Thursday, the Department of Justice shut down CityXGuide.com and arrested the site’s owner, for the first time utilizing the criminal expansions created under FOSTA/SESTA. Though the law was sold under the banner of anti-trafficking, 2018 passage instead expanded Federal criminal charges for facilitation of commercial sex, and led to many sites which offered harm reduction to sex workers pre-emptively shutting down. While advertising websites such as RentBoy have faced similar charges, this is the first use of FOSTA’s new expansion of federal policing in a moment when the latitude and effectiveness of police is being directly questioned.
“Cityxguide.com’s shutdown is only the latest step in the long history of targeting the entire sex trade in the name of trafficking while disregarding the impact on the very people these shutdowns pretend to protect. People in the sex trades need real resources, not expensive and media-friendly criminal prosecutions against ad sites used for harm reduction.” said Phoenix Calida, Communications Director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA.
After the closure of ad site Backpage.com, 72% of one study’s respondents reported increased financial insecurity and 36% reported increases in violence. Said one respondent, “Most of my reliable avenues for advertising are now gone. I have a lot less work, and screening takes a lot longer.”
The Department of Justice press release on the CityxGuide closure cites FOSTA as contributing to the takedown of the website, though others have pointed to the law as compromising the ability to identify and investigate trafficking. As a Senior Counsel at the Human Trafficking Institute noted “there was always a question of what was going to be the practical impact of that legislation.” The real reckless disregard for trafficking is the government’s takedown of another website used by low-income sex workers to reduce their vulnerability to violence.
“When we are re-envisioning public safety, this is a perfect example of why we can’t exempt human trafficking. Instead of resources going to community outreach or victim support, you have six agencies spending time and resources reading ads and looking for the word ‘blow job’” said Lorelei Lee, a collective member of Hacking//Hustling.
Now that we have seen the impact to be law enforcement’s increased targeting of the sex trade and a decrease in anti-trafficking efforts, we can only hope that lawmakers will re-think this approach and address exploitation, not waste resources.
Danielle Blunt, Hacking//Hustling, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phoenix Calida, SWOP-USA, Phoenix@swopusa.org
Hacking//Hustling is a collective of sex workers and accomplices working at the intersection of technology and social justice formed in response to SESTA-FOSTA (The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act). H//H has conducted research on the impact of SESTA-FOSTA and the removal of Backpage and published a Report on the subject which can be found here.
Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA is a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of people involved in the sex trade and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy. SWOP promotes decriminalization as the best means of decreasing harm and promoting agency amongst people in the sex trade. SWOP adopts the principles and practices of nonviolent action in order to reduce violence and achieve dignity and rights for sex workers.