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How To Start A Post-SESTA Emergency Organizing Group

Maxine Holloway and Arabelle Raphael, co-founders of BAPS (photo by Light Theif, via BAPS)

This post was jointly written by Maxine Holloway and Arabelle Raphael, co-founders of BAPS.

On the morning after the Senate passed FOSTA we texted each other about whether we should remove our ads from our social media accounts. We weren’t exactly sure what to do and knew that many other people were in the same situation. FOSTA had not yet been signed into law, and sex workers all over the country already had difficult decisions about our livelihoods and safety to make. Mercurial legal and cyber information and advice were flying around Twitter, online forums, text threads, and worker Facebook groups like wildfire.

We decided to host an emergency meeting for Bay Area sex workers that very weekend. We hoped we would gather a few people in Maxine’s small Oakland living room to share information, and figure out the best ways to move forward. Our small meeting quickly turned into 60-plus concerned workers RSVPing for the gathering. Because of the gravity of this situation the event promptly developed into a comprehensive cybersecurity and risk analysis training; an overview of current advertising platform options; and strategic action planning around local sex worker safety, media advocacy, and policy work.

But the most crucial thing that came from our meeting that we were able to come together to support each other. We didn’t all know each other, but so many of us were able to share and somewhat sooth the fear, sadness, and anxiety that FOSTA created. This worker-to-worker support and solidarity didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

After our first meeting, we knew we realized how much work there was to be done to keep our communities safer, connected, informed, and empowered. We decided to create an organization to centralize the work needed to advocate for the health, safety & livelihoods of sex workers post-FOSTA/SESTA legislation: Bay Area Pros Support (BAPS).

An integral part of BAPS is to recognize the diverse and intersecting identities that make up our larger sex worker communities and to center the needs of sex workers who have been hit the hardest by FOSTA and experience the most criminalization. It is important to our organization leverage the power and privilege in our communities to create support for workers with fewer resources. One of the most critical subcommittees we have is our Outreach Committee, created to reach workers that are not online, and work with them to connect them with support.

The purpose of this article is to share the information and resources that BAPS has gathered thus far—on cybersecurity, general FOSTA/SESTA information, and post-FOSTA-SESTA organizing. Below are detailed notes and action plans for our meetings. One of the biggest lessons we have learned is that having community support through this process has been crucial. We hope that the creation of BAPS will encourage other sex workers who wish to organize in their communities as well.

When reading this guide, please keep in mind that everyone is making decisions that are incredibly hard, and only you can know what’s right for you. We tried to gather as much information to share as possible to empower people to make the best decisions for themselves. There is no one or “right” way to navigate this complicated situation.

A Guide to Hustling on Craiglist Without the Personals

R.I.P. Craigslist Personals.

To the readers of this post, let me say first: I’m sorry, and I sympathize. I’m displaced and down in the trenches with you. I’m a ‘lower-end’ full-service and fetish worker. My way of life got taken down with the personals section of Craigslist. It’s the only platform I have ever used, and I’m taking my platform back. In order to help my fellow workers in the trenches and fight this censorship, please allow me to impart my tips and tricks on the loopholes of Craigslist.

One of the great things about this community of workers is our resilience and intelligence. The loopholes are always there, especially if you’ve got a sharp wit and way with words. I’ve been on the scene for seven years, and I’ve never met another fellow worker who was not also part entrepreneur and part lawyer. We are strong. We are powerful. We are a community. And Craigslist is no match for us.

The first major thing to remember about Craigslist is that the market is still there. Clients will always be there.

Post-SESTA/FOSTA Self-Censoring for Twitter, Reddit, and other Social Media

In the immediate aftermath of SESTA/FOSTA passing, before it’s even been signed into law, we’re already seeing discussion of sex work on the internet hit.

Some companies, like Patreon, seem to have preemptively changed their policies last year while the legislation was being written. Others have started publicly changing their policies today and it should be expected they won’t be the last. Cityvibe, an advertising site that mostly concentrated on LA, is down in the last 24 hours. (Eds. note: since the writing of this article, TER has restructured, and Craigslist has removed its personals section.Twitter’s Chief Information Security Officer just left the company, as well, which means we’re going to see a new direction in that department.

On Reddit, after the site posted new policy updates, here’s a message that was sent to moderators of r/SexWork, an important educational and harm reduction discussion forum:

What does “zero tolerance” mean? No one really knows. What is clear is that sites like Reddit will try to unload their responsibility to comply with this law onto users and volunteer moderators. Though paid Reddit admins can remove posts themselves, Reddit is instead threatening an entire community with closure if they ever miss a post Reddit determines to be over the line.

I have to say, at least, that it’s nice they even reached out. Reddit has already closed r/escorts, r/Hookers, r/MaleEscorts, and r/SugarDaddy, among others.

Some tech companies may hold out until there’s legal action taken against them, but I can’t imagine any company wants to be the first.

So. What can you do? Right now, most users on these sites are a in the dark with no clear path forward. A social media site can shut down your account whenever they want, for any reason, with no recourse or appeal. The First Amendment implications of this are still untested.

One measure people have discussed is self-censoring your profile. This is a shitty thing to have to consider, but it IS possible keywords could be used to decide what profiles are “risky” to flag for removal.

I can’t decide for you if removing your old tweets is worth your time. It’s possible this could matter a lot. It’s possible it won’t matter at all. For some people, old tweets have sentimental or historical value, while for others removing them could be a serious matter of safety.

Self-censoring is an unfortunate thing to have to resort to, but I believe right now it’s most important to maintain our networks and followers. Deleting your account is doing the dirty work for the tech companies – you may be able to avoid losing your account so you can continue participating in the community and being involved in a broader political discussion.

If you decide to delete tweets, there are a few ways to do it. This guide will be based on using a desktop or laptop and not a cell phone, since some of these features are not available on phone.

There’s an app called TweetEraser that offers a service to search and delete tweets in bulk. (Eds. note: Some people have also recommended an application called ShameEraser.)

You’ll have to sign up by linking your Twitter and authorizing it within the app. The initial load of tweets can take a really long time, but then you should be able to search for terms fairly easily. Here’s what it looks like:

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It’s A Good Idea To File Your Taxes

Schedule C and an example of a deductible expense.
Schedule C and an example of a deductible expense.

The filing deadline for your IRS tax return is Tuesday, April 18. You can file for an automatic extension with this form.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read sex workers on Facebook and Twitter talking about the difficulties they had in getting an apartment, qualifying for a car loan, and signing up for health care because they didn’t have any proof of income. “I don’t get paychecks,” the sex worker might say (unless she is an employee), “So how can I prove how much money I make?” I read dancers telling other dancers to get a strip club manager to write a letter estimating what she makes in a week, and while that might work to buy a car at You Work—You Ride! it won’t help with big leasing companies or the bank.

What will help is having a copy of your tax return. Even before you file it, make a copy of your completed return to have on hand for any occasion that requires proof of income. It doesn’t have to be complicated; if you take a look at the Schedule C and panic at all the deduction categories, if you don’t save receipts for anything, if you haven’t filed in years, if you’ve never filed during your sex working career, just remember this: don’t panic. You can do this. All it is is counting money and adding and subtracting it.

Well. And paying it. That part is no fun. But if you’re filing as a self-employed person, you’re supposed to pay quarterly estimated taxes, which is somewhat better than paying one chunk in April, and hey, at least you don’t have to get depressed looking at a deduction on a paycheck every couple of weeks. OK, it’s unpleasant. There’s really nothing less fun to do with your money than send it to the IRS other than using it to pay for car repairs or dental work.

We are not accounting or tax professionals here at Tits and Sass but I, for one, am a career stripper who had her own tax missteps in the past (the part where I pretty much forgot to file the entire time I was in college) (and I was in college for a long time). If I could get straightened out, so can you. Let me be clear that I’m not urging anyone to pay taxes for any other reason than to make their own life easier. I do, however, want to emphasize how it can make your life easier: