Silicon Valley

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.

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Happy Blackout Friday!  Lady Dee

Cam Model Lady Dee mugs for the camera. Happy #Blackout Day!

Bubbles said it first, but the documentary that “exposes” exploitation in amateur pornography production, Hot Girls Wanted (now available on Netflix), has some problems. Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals offers some constructive criticism of the doc and suggests what points it should also have covered.

Speaking of, what is that agent’s job from Hot Girls Wanted like, anyway?

A Portland sex worker art show/book launch party for the $pread Magazine Anthology got some local press. The show, $pread The Love, the brainchild of our own Tits and Sass Week In Links Editor Red and other Portland sex worker activists, was held yesterday.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes about how the JVTA heedlessly replicates the War on Drugs for Politico; something Melissa Gira Grant reported on a couple of years ago. Politico then ran a rebuttal letter with seven signers. They’re pretty illustrious: Tracy Sefl, is a senior campaign adviser to Hilary Clinton, and, of course, Autumn Hanna VandeHei is married to Jim VandeHei, cofounder and executive editor of Politico.

Sex workers in Zimbabwe aren’t using digital currency because it’s hip and high-tech, they’re using it for their safety. [READ MORE]

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seattleswop

Seattle SWOP

SWOP-Seattle went to Olympia to speak in front of the legislature about the proposed End Demand bill, with the result that Senator Kohl-Welles has a third amendment to add, one which will increase the penalty for buying sex only after the third arrest, a misunderstanding only slightly less appalling than a recent senator’s offer of a hot meal to an activist lobbying against discrimination against sex workers.

Church leaders in Scotland have signed a letter calling for an amendment to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill which would criminalize the purchase of sex in Scotland.  Sex workers and rights activists are protesting, pointing to the recent report which concluded that End Demand did anything but protect sex workers.

This National Post review goes over all the work of controversial Canadian French writer and ex-sex worker Nelly Arcan, who hung herself in her apartment in 2009. Her novel Whore—a bleak account of a sex worker’s life as told to her psychoanalyst—was nominated for both the Prix Medicis and the Prix Femina, two of the most respected French literary honors. (As told to her psychoanalyst, though? Could that plot be more French?)

Trans porn performer, cam girl, and writer Rebeka Refuse talks about her entry into sex work, Marxism, her work with Trans Housing Network and her plan to create small, easily fundable shelters for trans people.

Bonela and Sisonke, two sex workers’ rights groups in Botswana, wrote a letter about the recent support for sex workers’ rights shown by Assistant Minister of local Government and Rural Government, Botlogile Tshireletso.

Simon Leahy, who clearly isn’t friends with any sex workers, is having a porn festival in New York to open up a wider dialogue about sex. The festival includes a film by James Franco; sadly, Miley Cyrus’ contribution was withdrawn.

The Virginia Trucking Association is partnering with Truckers Against Trafficking to help educate truckers about what trafficking looks like.  Not “how to provide best services to young runaways,” or “how to recognize and respond to abusive behaviors,” but “trafficking.”  Okay then.

An Australian man who raped an escort multiple times through fraudulent payments has been sentenced to eight months in jail.

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