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.
FOSTA-SESTA’s Devastating Effects On Sex Workers
Even before President Trump signed FOSTA-SESTA into law (on April 11), the legislation’s passage caused independent sex workers to lose access to their clientele streams (via Backpage and Craigslist) and, therefore, their income streams. Yet the so-called oldest profession in the world won’t fade away. The demand for sex workers will continue, but a vacuum has been created — one that could disastrously resurrect pimping.
The sex workers we spoke with felt shattered over the news. Chayse Rose, a professional fetish enthusiast, was “angry, sad, and scared,” and she warns that Backpage’s closure “hurts the most vulnerable sex workers more than anyone else.” And A., a member of the Black Sex Workers Collective who’s an advocate, burlesque performer, and former stripper, expressed “shock, dismay, disappointment, and frustration.” She sees this as a blow to freedom of speech.
Likewise, Anna Moone, a queer adult performer, felt “devastated,” but says that sex workers saw this coming for years. Anna tells UPROXX that Backpage’s shutdown won’t do much to meet the bill’s stated goals. “In addition to being devastating and unhelpful,” Anna says. “Backpage getting raided meant that SESTA wasn’t even relevant to the capturing the Boogeyman they used to rally behind it.”
Lydia Faithfull — a professional dominatrix, sex columnist, and a former Nevada brothel madam who recently spent time in New Zealand (where prostitution is legal) — assures UPROXX that she’s no conspiracy theorist, but she feels that Backpage’s closure is “dangerous government propaganda.” She points toward the current headlines featuring porn star Stormy Daniels and her alleged affair with Donald Trump, and although Backpage has clearly been a government target for years, the shutdown’s timing may be no mere coincidence.
“A quick way to discredit someone who profits from her sexuality is to stigmatize all paid sex,” Lydia tells us. “Especially by conflating consensual adult sex work with the ugliness of sex trafficking. This was confirmed days later when we learned Backpage’s indictment included zero trafficking charges.”