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.
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.
In “Thank God” news, a Washington judge permanently blocked a three-time felon and current inmate’s request for personal information attached to the licenses of over 200 area strippers. The inmate described himself as a “an advocate for the industry” who needed the info in order to make the women famous through his use of social media. Yeah, Asshole, that’s exactly what a lot of sex worker stalkers want to do: out them to the world, permanently, online.
Atlanta is working to ban prostitutes and their clients from areas of city once they’ve been convicted of multiple arrests. Georgia’s Supreme Court has a history of allowing such bans if they’re “reasonable, or aimed at rehabilitation.”
Content warning: this piece contains accounts of child sexual abuse and violence against a sex working minor as well as discussion of structural violence.
I spent my teen years selling sex on the internet. I grew up on the Craigslist Erotic Services section, finding men who would pay me for something I didn’t take seriously because I’d been robbed of the chance to do so. I’d been raped at 12 by my next door neighbor after months of molestation, and subsequently passed around the neighborhood to two other perverts. One was an Albanian fella who definitely sold women, and he could have ended up trafficking me as well. In hindsight, my luck has been insane.
Cyntoia Brown’s story feels too close to home. Brown killed one of her abusers at the age of 16. When I was 16, I met a man on Yahoo Personals who seemed nice. After a four hour session, he didn’t want to pay. He kicked me out of the house and I had to find my way home. He could have killed me, and I thought he would, because he grabbed me so hard to throw me out. That session could have been my last, and no one would have been the wiser. If I’d been abducted, my mom would have been looking for a ghost; she had no idea what I was doing.
In 2011, ahead of the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas Attorney General (and current governor) Greg Abbott announced that “The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly. It’s commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” Thus were launched a thousand stories about sex workers and sex traffickers flocking to Super Bowl host cities to serve Super Bowl attendees, who were apparently possessed of a massive appetite for their services.
But when Abbott used the word “trafficking,” the trend shifted to reporting on the even more dramatic imagery of sex slaves being forced to work in Super Bowl cities. It was a deliberate shift in language and while for a time sex worker activists were expected to note that of course they opposed sex slavery, which was totally different from their consensual involvement in sex work, it has become clear that most legislation targeted at sex trafficking is merely anti-prostitution legislation that creates harsher legal penalties for things that are already illegal (slavery and sexual assault are already crimes, as is prostitution in almost all of the United States).
“Trafficking” is a powerful word, and its use by activists was no accident. The Arizona Republic published a story in January about its use, quoting noted arrest-based diversion program Project ROSE founder Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz as saying “It just has been a grammar change” from “prostitution.” Sepowitz goes on to say that “I believe every adult (prostitute), I believe almost every single one of them was trafficked.”