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Today in Questionable Strip Club Advertising: Recruiting High Schoolers

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.

SESTA’s Growing Threat To The Sex Worker Internet

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.

The Ten Biggest Sex Work Stories of 2014, U.S. Edition

(Photo via Flickr user doug88888)
(Photo via Flickr user doug88888)

In chronological order, here’s what we deemed the most noteworthy sex work stories of 2014 in the United States. Come back tomorrow for the biggest international stories.

1. Belle Knox
In February, Duke’s student newspaper published an interview with a porn performer who was was outed to her classmates at Duke by fellow student Thomas Bagley. She was met with death threats and a three ring media circus once her performing name, Belle Knox, became public. In response, she reinvented herself as an advocate for sex workers’ rights, writing opinion pieces in various venues and speaking at the Toledo International Human Trafficking conference this year about whore stigma and sex worker exclusionary feminists. She also inspired an episode of Law & Order: SVU.

2. The Urban Institute Study
The government-funded Urban Institute study of sex work published in March (hey, look, it calls for more funding for law enforcement!), The Hustle, painted a sensational picture of the commercial sex economy where pimps can make $33,000 a week manipulating sex workers into work and inspired a hundred stories about the relative strength of the sex industry economy in U.S. cities. One problem: the study was extremely narrow, relying on a sample of only 36 sex workers, most of whom had already been incarcerated or were in a diversion program.

3. Monica Jones
In April, a Phoenix court found Monica Jones guilty of manifesting prostitution. Jones had been arrested during a sweep conducted by Project ROSE, a prostitution diversion program jointly administered by the Phoenix PD and Dominique Roe-Sepowicz of the Arizona State School of Social Work. Jones, herself a student of social work at ASU and an activist, attracted international attention when she spoke out about her arrest and experience with the sweep. Sex work activists, transgender community activists, and the ACLU all called for attention to the problems with ROSE, the crime of “walking while trans,” and the language of Arizona’s manifestation of prostitution statute. She is appealing her conviction and was recently deported from Australia for allegedly violating the work conditions of her visa while traveling for her studies. In November, Jones told the Best Practices Policy Project blog that Project ROSE will be discontinued.

4. No Condoms As Evidence
New York sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Project was one of the primary supporters of the campaign to stop the NYPD from using condoms as evidence, which achieved a measure of success in May when they announced they would no longer use them as evidence in prostitution cases. They still may be used as evidence in trafficking cases, however.

5. MyRedbook.com
MyRedbook.com and SFRedbook.com, two Bay Area sex work advertising and discussion forums and invaluable tools to thousands of sex workers, were seized by the FBI in June. The site operators have plead guilty to charges of using the mail and the internet to facilitate prostitution.

2018’s Best Writing and Reporting on Sex Work

photo via Elvert Barnes

How August Ames’ Suicide Is Changing the Porn Industry by Tina Horn
After the tragic death of August Ames left workers reeling, a sprawling industry realized it needed to do better.

Don’t Ask Sex Workers to Solve the Problems of Violently Angry Men by Gaby del Valle
Sex workers are not ethically obligated to fuck the unfuckable.

The New Orleans Police Raid That Launched a Dancer Resistance by Melissa Gira Grant
After a week of police raids and a failed human trafficking investigation, the dancers of NOLA drew a line.

Stormy Daniels’ strip club arrest highlights how evangelical Americans are criminalizing sex work by Susan Elizabeth Shepard
Strip club laws have nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with appeasing the Christian right.

Columbus Officer Was Under Investigation When He Shot and Killed Donna Dalton by Melissa Gira Grant
Dalton’s murderer had already received eight complaints against him.

Stormy Daniels Isn’t Backing Down by Amy Chozick
“Part of what has made Daniels such an effective adversary to Trump is that she seemingly can’t be humiliated or scandalized. She doesn’t have a carefully crafted image or a political base to maintain. Threaten to leak her sex tape? ‘I’ll leak all of them, and you can have as many as you want for $29.95,’ she says.”

Abused then arrested: inside California’s crackdown on sex work by Sam Levin
Homeless Black and Latinx women were targeted.

Donald Trump Played Central Role in Hush Payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal by Joe Palazzolo, Nicole Hong, Michael Rothfeld, Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Rebecca Ballhaus
Stormy Daniels was right.

A Stranger Truth by Ashkok Alexander  Ashkok explains how as the leader of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s campaign against HIV he depended on one of the most threatened and marginalized communities—India’s sex workers—to help snuff out the country’s HIV crisis.

“I didn’t pick her up on no doggone playground.”

Former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor recently plead guilty to seeing an underage escort, resulting in a sentence of six years of probation and “registered sex offender” status. Sixteen-year-old Christina Fierro came to his room claiming to be 19, but was apparently the underage victim of a violent and coercive pimp. L.T. claims not to have been able to discern her age, describing her as a “19-year-old working girl who came to my room.”