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.
When a porn star positions herself to take out the fucking President, the entire population of liberals should be asking themselves:
What have I done to support sex workers? To show them gratitude? What can I do to honor these tireless laborers at the edge of my freedoms?
— Conner Habib (@ConnerHabib) March 8, 2018
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.