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Today in Questionable Strip Club Advertising: Recruiting High Schoolers

Emperor’s Palm Beach is advertising that they’re taking applications from soon-to-be high school graduates. Seems like a questionable strategy, since another location operated by the same owners was sued for allowing an underage dancer to work. It sounds like the club might be a nice stop for traveling (legal) dancers, though. An article in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times points out that the club’s website offers hotel accommodations and “guaranteed funds.” Of one thing we can be sure: This sign undoubtedly reached more Reddit readers than potential strippers.

SESTA’s Growing Threat To The Sex Worker Internet

Senator Richard Blumenthal testifying in favor of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, with that sincere, constipated look one gets when testifying in favor of anti-trafficking legislation. (Via Youtube)

You can always count on a corporation to look out for its own interests. An existential threat to their business model will even trump the good PR that comes from beating on everyone’s favorite marginalized punching bags, sex workers). So, until recently, major tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Google opposed SESTA,the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. Their business models depend on user-generated content, and SESTA would overhaul Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which previously protected internet platforms against liability for the actions of users.

But following a compromise earlier this month between Silicon Valley and the bill’s Congressional sponsors, SESTA has passed the House and is headed to the Senate. Though they tried to keep their involvement quiet, cloaking their advocacy in the lobbying group the Internet Association, tech companies pushed hard for changes to the bill. An amended version of the bill released on November 3 by Senator John Thune addressed many of their concerns. Initially, SESTA took aim at any facilitation of user sex trafficking. But an amendment to the bill now specifies only “knowing conduct” as “participation in a venture,” meaning in general terms that sex worker advertising sites are now the only ones on the hook while Facebook and company remain immune from sex trafficking liability. Another key revision that spurred a change in the Internet Association’s position involved the development of bots policing content. In earlier versions of SESTA, developing such bots would constitute knowledge of the platform being used to facilitate sex trafficking. Similarly, Backpage’s keyword filters for policing content were used in its Senate hearing as evidence that it had knowledge of and was facilitating sex trafficking. Its own reporting efforts were used against it.

The bill also now specifies that state law enforcement officials using SESTA to prosecute individuals or entities would have to use federal law as a basis for their actions. That’s very handy for the tech companies, as in some states, “sex trafficking” can mean just about anything. While the federal definition of sex trafficking involves force, fraud, or coercion (or the involvement of minors, though this leads to situations in which young street youth get arrested for trafficking for helping their friends in the business as soon as they turn 18), a number of states, such as Alaska, have much broader definitions. This can include cases such as two escorts simply working together. A 2012 records request found that two such escorts were arrested and charged with sex trafficking as well as with prostitution—both alleged victims were arrested and charged with sex trafficking each other.

The bill remains draconian. There are enormous liabilities attached to user content for internet companies, which is a huge incentive to police that content heavily. Platforms that host advertising for sex workers are definitely still in the crosshairs. In fact, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) points out, SESTA will even target companies retroactively, a measure that was no doubt included as a way to go after Backpage. No actual intention to assist in any sex trafficking is necessary in the newest version of the bill either, so long as it is “facilitated” in some way, a term which courts have interpreted broadly.

The Week In Links: March 25

An update on Oregon’s strip club debate, Oregon’s sex-trafficking bills, and Colorado’s john schools.

Care to read about truck drivers’ “commercial sex contacts“?

You should definitely care to watch this inspiring video of Cambodian sex workers and allies marching for rights.

It’s also worth checking out Amanda Marcotte’s commentary on teachers with a sex working past.

Canberra sex workers want changes to the law that will support their safety and privacy. Naturally, anti sex work folks (masquerading as anti sex-trafficking, and putting quotes around “safety for sex workers”) are not okay with that.

Performing artist and sex worker Annie Sprinkle is getting married for the tenth time this Saturday, and you can buy a ticket!

Camille Paglia talks about the recently deceased Elizabeth Taylor’s role as a call girl in Butterfield 8.

And nudists are worried that they’ll suffer if strip club laws restrict public nudity.

Bring your church program for a free pole dancing class near Houston.

Tits and Sass Stands With Black Lives Matter

Two members of a George Floyd protest on 14th & U Streets in Washington D.C. yesterday, 5/29/2020. (Photo by George Livingston via Flickr)

UPDATED FROM 2016: Four years later, Tits and Sass and the sex worker community reiterate our alliance with the Black Lives Matter movement and all communities of color protesting the police nationally. We have updated the list of fundraisers below through which you can demonstrate support.

Twitter user @Chateau_Cat has compiled an ever-growing list of bail funds. Click here to access it.

There’s also a city-by-city guide in Paper Magazine on how to support people protesting against the police where you are.

And here is yet another list of local bail funds and legal help, which we originally saw tweeted on Lysistrata MCCF’s account. We’re unsure whom to credit for this one—please claim it if it’s yours.

Update on 6/1/2020: Finally, Reclaim the Block has created this list of grassroots Minneapolis organizations who haven’t gotten as many donations as some, but who are keeping their communities afloat and need help.

Update on 6/2/2020, International Whores Day and Blackout Tuesday: This is a comprehensive National Bail Fund Network approved list of bail funds for protesters across the country.

Fundraisers for Black sex workers as well as other sex workers of color affected by police violence and incarceration

Fund for Alisha Walker, and a resource list by Support Ho(s)e on how you can support her and her community inside Decatur Prison.

SWOP Behind Bars offers a variety of ways to donate to incarcerated sex workers, with Amazon wishlists, jail libraries, and scholarship funds being among the many options, as well as a direct donation towards their work.

Update on 6/2: Finally, this is a spreadsheet Twitter user @daemonderriere created out of Caty Simon’s original thread listing sex worker mutual aid funds for COVID-19 relief monies—many of the sex workers these funds serve are criminalized Black sex workers and sex workers of color.

Memorial fundraisers for Black people killed by the police

George Floyd’s memorial fund, organized by his brother

A fundraiser to support Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, organized by his friend—#irunwithmaud

A fundraiser to cover grief counseling and funeral and burial expenses for Tony Mcdade’s family, designated to his mother. This one was just created an hour or two ago and could particularly use some help.

Update on 6/6/2020: This is a fundraiser for Breonna Taylor’s family. Yesterday would have been her 27th birthday. #SayHerName

Miscellaneous

Survived & Punished is a national coalition dedicated to supporting people—most often women of color—who have been incarcerated for surviving domestic or sexual violence. You can donate to them here.

Please add any additional fundraisers in the comments and share this list far and wide.

Reporting on ROSE: A Journalist’s Work In Phoenix

Image via SWOP-Phoenix on Facebook
Image via SWOP-Phoenix on Facebook

We often have cause to complain about media coverage of sex work, but we haven’t had occasion to talk about how good stories can be edited into inadequate ones as they travel from reporter to final outlet. The fate of Jordan Flaherty‘s story about Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited) is a great opportunity to look at what happens when a journalist tries to show the public the whole story but is met with resistance from his employer. 

Flaherty traveled to Phoenix in October to cover ROSE and the accompanying protests by SWOP-Phoenix. ROSE is a “concentrated arrest-alternative/intervention program for adult victims of prostitution or sex trafficking.” In practice, it’s mass arrest sweeps during which those taken into custody on prostitution charges are told they can either go through ROSE, starting with a trip to their headquarters at a church, or they can go to jail. And there are problems with the process, ones Flaherty wanted to make sure his finished work represented. Al Jazeera aired a version of his television segment that eliminated key information about ROSE, so Flaherty has made repeated attempts to get a fuller version of his reporting out to the public. He has encountered difficulty in doing so. I spoke with him last week at a time when his story had been posted on Truthout, but as of yesterday, Al Jazeera America has claimed copyright violation, requiring Truthout to remove the story from their site. The story is still available in a couple of other places. Another cut of the television piece is available although it’s not one Flaherty considers complete, either. This written version of the piece as aired is the only one remaining on Al Jazeera America.

Below is an edited Q&A that took place by phone on Monday, January 6th.

How did you first come across Project ROSE?

The issue of the legal treatment of sex workers is something I’ve been following for a while, especially these kinds of programs that say that they’re helping sex workers but are doing mass arrests. These programs have been getting very positive treatment and I was interested in looking at something like that with a more critical eye. When I heard about Project ROSE it just seemed like an example of the way in which people are conflating sex work and trafficking.