On March 22, 2018, a collective groan went up from countless Craigslist browsers in search of a “casual encounter” and maybe, just maybe, more. Preemptively, the site had shuttered their personal ads after the passage of SESTA-FOSTA (known in the Senate as the Stop Enabling Sexual Traffickers Act and the House as the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), legislation that received public support from celebs like Amy Schumer and Seth Meyers. Soon enough, similar sites began falling, most notably with the FBI seizure of controversial classified site Backpage, which was — quite literally — a lifeline for sex workers.
This was perhaps an inevitable turn of events, given that the bill breezily passed in both the House (388-25) and Senate (97-2), for no one really wants to go down in the books as a lawmaker who opposed a bill that, label-wise, aims to prevent sex trafficking, including that of children. Yet the larger effects of the law could be disastrous. Backpage provided a relatively safe place for independent sex workers to place ads and vet clients. This kept them “off the streets,” so to speak, and allowed workers and providers to avoid meeting in areas known and frequented by law enforcement, such as bars and street corners, which places them at risk for arrest in the 49 states where prostitution remains illegal.
There’s also a very real possibility that Backpage’s fate could be followed by the demise of Grindr and other hookup apps after Pounced, a dating site geared toward Furries, shut down in response to the bill. We spoke with multiple opponents of this law — current and former sex workers, along with an attorney who has both prosecuted sex traffickers and represented many sex workers — to zero in on exactly what FOSTA-SESTA aimed to do and how, inevitably, it will fail to meet these purported goals.