Home Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History SESTA Vs. Stormy Daniels

SESTA Vs. Stormy Daniels

Could SESTA stop the next Stormy Daniels?

(Image via Flickr user Donkeyhotey)

The fact that porn workers have always been popular scapegoats for the broadest strokes of politics and media is hardly news for those who work in the sex industry. There are myths claiming pornography leads to violence and there is the historical fact that porn workers have protected our civil rights. Protecting our First Amendment rights is just scratching the surface of sex workers’ contributions to labor and women’s rights movements, among others, since antiquity. Although more is at stake for sex workers than free speech, the passage of FOSTA and SESTA will not only affect us but civilians too, especially in light of the repeal of net neutrality. In a titillating cross-section of lawmaking and scandal, we have on one side Stormy Daniels suing 45 for unlawful payoffs and calling him to account publicly for his associates’ threats against her, and on the other side, legislation that has already silenced common sex workers, with the overlaying intersections of race and class; good whores and bad whores; victims and perpetrators; and misinformation all around.

You might see liberal celebrities championing Daniels, but you won’t see them championing sex workers’ rights.

Daniels’ timing could not be better. People are more willing to listen to a woman’s side of the story thanks to movements like #metoo and #timesup—although, crucially, as she told Anderson Cooper on Sunday night in her widely publicized 60 Minutes interview, Daniels is not a victim of sexual assault and does not want to be considered one. Perhaps we’ve learned from the distance we’ve been rewarded, and hopefully, the lessons we learned from the horrifying treatment Monica Lewinsky received for similar “transgressions.” Still, many people are listening because their ideas about fidelity and sex have not evolved. On one hand, this scandal in the hands of “edgy” liberals is an attempt to use civilians’ ignorance about sexuality as fuel against 45 and on the other, this scandal is viewed as vile and shameful specifically because it involves a woman who worked in the porn industry. After all, the accusations of sexual assault against the president have caused far less sensation.

But it took a figure like Daniels to come out with this scandal. To be called a whore in the public eye is sudden death for most women. Daniels’ reaction to being called a whore by one of her many Twitter trolls? She tweets back emphatically, “Yes! I love your enthusiasm!” because she is a fucking badass—and a privileged sex worker who works in a legal field, who isn’t scrambling for economic survival in the wake of SESTA’s threat to escort advertising platforms and sex worker online community. Daniels is a woman who can risk losing a million dollars for being interviewed on Sunday night even as many sex workers this week feared they were out of a job. Though, as we learned from Daniels’ 60 Minutes interview, even a high-profile, wealthy, legal sex worker can face dire threats while holding her infant daughter in her arms for contributing to what was intended to be fluffy gossip about a reality TV star.

If what politicians and careless celebrities tout are true, the only good whore is one who has been rescued and reformed. (We’re still waiting to see what such reformation and rehabilitation looks like in practice—it never seem to include any options for sustainable alternative employment.) To them, she is not the whore who defends your basic human rights to enjoy sexual autonomy, free speech, and artistic expression. Nor is she the one who challenges our common understandings of fidelity, wealth, and power. Similarly, it would appear that Congress is willing to believe a sensational “child trafficking” scare without evidence or an endgame, and without consulting those who have been trafficked; likely because of this good whore/bad whore dichotomy in which there are only victims and criminals. Sex workers have attempted to inform politicians that women across the class, gender, race, and age spectrums choose this line of work out of necessity and desire. We’ve told them repeatedly that within these intersections there are also victims of trafficking, there are survivors of trafficking who go on to choose sex work, there are those who never have a choice, and there are survivors who are trying to leave sex work and find themselves stymied by whorephobic hiring policies. And we’ve explained time and time again that naturally, transparency and decriminalization can help ferret out traffickers and that the best resources for stopping sex trafficking are sex workers.

While our cause is nuanced and complicated, the laws against us are simple: those in power are against the sex industry because it exists outside of the legitimized marketplace and some women, queer, trans, and othered people find that sex work gives them more bodily autonomy and power than a straight job. SESTA was passed 97 to 2 by senators who have more likely than not employed sex workers themselves, under a president who may be getting sued by one.

SESTA was passed 97 to 2 by senators who have more likely than not employed sex workers themselves, under a president who may be getting sued by one.

The last thing those in power want is to protect victims. They want to protect themselves from being outed like 45. Like the definition of obscenity when it comes to incriminating porn, the legal definition of “promoting prostitution” can be as murky as law enforcement needs it to be under this new law. Online dating, sexy selfies, and sex work activism will surely disappear, as platforms are now held responsible for hosting “trafficking.” Without rights, online security, and the benefit of an internet paper trail and community, we are helpless against exploitation. If civilians think this won’t creep into their ability to call out predators online and keep themselves safe from exploitation they are dead wrong. We already said goodbye to Craigslist personals, and Tinder has deleted the account of a legal sex worker, so what’s next?

While this legislation was created to prevent sex workers from working; it was also created to silence us. Politicians cringe at Daniel’s outspokenness and have created an opportunity to shut up the next offender. It is no coincidence that at a time in which the internet is our best weapon against oppression we are seeing laws that will take that power away from us.

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Morgan Claire Sirène is a visual artist, occultist and purveyor of thoughts currently residing in Chicago, IL. She is an artistic collaborator with Slutist.com and best known as the creator of The Slutist Tarot. She has also curated art events, worked as a guest lecturer, and an essayist focusing on sex workers' rights, witchcraft, erotic art, literature, and BDSM. She is currently a stripper but has done escort and fetish work in the past.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Wow it went from bad since last year to horrible today for online providers. CL personals, Cityvibe, Nightshift and a few other provider sites all shutdown due to the SESTA bill being passed. It doesn’t look good for online providing. I mean they can’t totally stop it but the money available to be made online is going to go down 85-90%. You will have to get a job or work in a legal Nevada brothel. Some can strip but you will have to look real good to work in a good club especially after this law goes into effect. There will be a mass exodus from online to strip clubs so the clubs can hire the cream of the crop so it will be real hard to get hired. There is also the street, bars, lounges and casinos but most online providers are not built for that most would rather quit the business than do that. Let us wait and see what happens but it doesn’t look to good right now.

  2. “those in power are against the sex industry because it exists outside of the legitimized marketplace”

    Uh.. No, I think its a much more banal thing – if the people in charge of the fed and local governments concerned themselves with what the majority wanted, there would be progress towards a more open world, and saner legislation, but the only people they ever listen to, either because they **are** one of those people, or because they are scared to death of both the real, and illusionary, power(s) of such people, are those claiming “moral high grounds”, especially fundamentalists and evangelicals. Mind you, some of these people only have the power they do as a result of a) money they cheated people out of, in scams that are illegal in any case that doesn’t involve religion, b) the number of letter writers they can drum up, to make it look like a majority of Americans agree with them (which is also often unverifiable, since there is nothing to stop them from writing multiple letters, phone calls, etc., and having them arrive from different place. Heh, these sorts of people see nothing wrong with Republican gerrymandering, you think they don’t do the mail/email/etc. version of ballot stuffing?), and c) managing to do what even Trump can’t manage, and rally thousands of people to show up for a demonstration of how much everyone trusts them.

    No, I don’t think it has much of anything to do with sex work lying outside the “legitimate marketplace”. They have, literally, no problem trafficking little children to spout BS slogans and nonsense, or run them through “camps” to brain wash them with the same. But, they are also all being told (I can guarantee this) by their “leaders” that liberals, sex workers and everyone else that isn’t a fanatic, are likely secretly trying to traffick the same sorts of kids into sex parties. After all, back when naturism saw a growth “Republican” run states, like Texas went so far as to pass laws to, “Prevent opening such sex clubs for kids!”, not because that sort of thing happened, at all, at such camps, but because they, and the public they conned into supporting this nonsense idea, where *certain* this was what took place in such locations.

    This isn’t about whether or not its an acceptable market, its about, as you yourself comment, “acceptable moral definitions”, in effect. If it was purely about market, half these con artist and corporate shills would be driving legislation to promote brothels and create loopholes to enable trafficking by pimps.

  3. I think their violating you’re first amendment right lol here woman strip for their husband, boyfriends and even for the hell of it everyday about every hour so what’s the big deal about stripping in a club that the city or town has give the owners permission to do. Now that Trump has been cought with his pants down with a pornstar oh boy this is a big deal and now we need the end all so that no one will ever be cought in a porn movie or put a buck or so in a strippers gudder belt. God for bid that happing. This country has gone nuts and it’s not the liberals it you’re damn Republicans and Religion Group that’s out of church are as biggest sinner on earth to which I think is so darn funny. They go confess there sins that stripped for their what ever walk out the to do it all over again. People wants you to believe their holy and their good people but hell there just like us only maybe 1% of all the people in this nation are by the holy book. The rest love sex as much as we do.

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