jessica tholmer
Updated March 24, 2018 9:32 am
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One of the most convoluted and misunderstood conversations right now is about sex trafficking and sex work. It’s very important to be clear that there are big differences between the two. Sex work is valid, acceptable, and should absolutely be acknowledged and supported en masse. The rights of sex workers should be discussed freely, openly, and passionately on days like International Women’s Day. (Or any day, really.) However, clearly some people are conflating real sex work with sex trafficking — and thanks to a new anti-sex-trafficking law, sites like the Craigslist personals section are getting caught in the crosshairs.

Just this week, Congress passed what’s called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, better known as FOSTA. The bill seeks to clarify the country’s existing sex-trafficking laws by updating Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in a well-meaning attempt to protect sex workers. And while no one supports the idea of sex trafficking, the legislation targets websites that actually help sex workers do their jobs safely. So yeah, we honestly think many people are confused.

What does this have to do with Craigslist personals? Well, in the wake of FOSTA’s passage, Craigslist preemptively shut down that section of its website to protect itself from litigation.

What FOSTA does, in part, is allow victims of sex trafficking to sue websites that allowed their abuse to occur in the first place, according to CNN. Which, of course, is a well-intentioned and noteworthy endeavor. However, the bill effectively equates legitimate sex workers with trafficking victims, which is obviously a false analogy. It’s also raising important questions about free online speech, which is why even tech companies are concerned about FOSTA’s potential overreach.

Adult performer Lorelei Lee explained how FOSTA threatens the safety of sex workers on her Instagram:

Indeed, sex workers often use websites like Craigslist to safely advertise their services. But if you click on the Craigslist personals section now, you’re redirected to this statement:

The bill is currently awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature, so we don’t have a clear picture of its long-term implications. For now, sex workers will have to find other ways to perform their jobs safely — and you can’t rely on Craigslist personals for your dates anymore.