On Wednesday July 4th, Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, organised a debate within the House of Commons, calling for the introduction of legislation that would ban websites allowing sex workers to advertise their services to potential clients, support each other as a community, as well as allow sex workers to share information about dangerous clients. This follows the anti-trafficking legislation FOSTA/SESTA, that was introduced in the US earlier this year.
While proponents of this legislation claim that these laws reduce trafficking and sexual exploitation, we only need look to the USA, where this legislation was recently passed, to see devastation it is having on escorts and sex workers. American sex workers are reporting a decrease in their safety, an increase in exploitative managers controlling their working conditions, and an increase in sex workers being forced to turn to precarious outdoor work in order to survive. Instead of creating a safer environment and aiding the prevention of trafficking, it is doing the complete opposite.
Outdoor sex workers bear the brunt of criminalisation, and police abuse under the current legal framework, which criminalises solicitation on the street, and fines sex workers through public order offences. The introduction of further laws which push escorts and sex workers onto the streets, would therefore make even more people vulnerable to violence and arrest. In addition it could also push women into seeking pimps, which could in turn lead them into the trafficking world.
Sarah Champion MP has mistakenly identified advertising platforms as fueling sexual exploitation. Evidence has shown that indoor escorts, who use the internet to advertise their services are safer than escorts and sex workers who do not. These websites provide a platform that enables escorts and sex workers to vet clients, and that they hold vital intelligence which could support police investigations, and allow greater access to justice and protection, aiding in the conviction of dangerous individuals in our communities.
Sex workers should never become collateral damage in politicians’ moral crusades. If Sarah Champion wishes to reduce sexual exploitation and trafficking she must first listen to sex workers themselves. The majority of whom call for full decriminalisation of the sex industry. She must also recognise the role that the criminalisation of migration plays in creating the conditions for trafficking and exploitation. In addition, understanding that only by treating sex work as work, can we begin to uphold the safety and human rights of sex workers.
If the UK government are looking for models of good practice, to improve the safety of sex workers, they should not be looking to implement SESTA-FOSTA style laws in the UK. The government should be looking to work with these sites, as opposed to shutting them down. Closure of sites under the guise of stopping sexual exploitation and trafficking, will only serve to push both legal sex work and illegal trafficking further underground. The result will make escorts, sex workers, and the victims of trafficking and exploitation less safe.
Every one of us has the right to be safe and that includes escorts and sex workers!