Editors Note: KinkAcademy.com stands in solidarity with sex workers. We believe all kinksters need to be aware of this legislation to help push back by letting your local representative know that this bill will endanger the very people it supposedly seeks to protect.
If you’ve gone to Craigslist Personals over the past few weeks, rather than finding someone ready and willing to Netflix and chill at 3pm on a Thursday, or a sex worker who would like to negotiate a meeting with you, you’ve found the following statement:
US Congress just passed HR 1865, “FOSTA”, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.
Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.
To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!
But what about the couples who met on Craigslist, and who are now looking to meet other couples on Craigslist? What about those couples whose happiness isn’t found in monogamy, or who didn’t find love in order to put the kibosh on online hookups? What about singles, and swingers, and those looking for an anonymous fling?
Many folks currently lamenting the fall of Craigslist Personals cite the primary loss we’re all facing as one about love and marriage, not sex and sexuality. In addition to finding a sex worker or casual encounter, the platform helped people find long-term partners and spouses. Beyond ignoring the protests of sex workers, who have stated that online platforms like Craigslist and Backpage kept them safer than they would have been working on the streets, grief over the loss of a site that reportedly fostered true love ignores what we all should have been fighting for before FOSTA/SESTA passed the House and Senate, and Trump signed the bill into law on April 11: the right to control our sex lives. The right to be perverts, kinksters, sex workers, swingers, clients, and sex-positive, consenting adults.
If you are not a sex worker and were completely shocked when you heard about the shuttering of Craigslist Personals, or the more recent seizure of Backpage.com, I couldn’t blame you for not having heard about FOSTA. On a day that the news cycle was dominated by national concern about Facebook—with Mark Zuckerberg on his second day of testimony before Congress—Trump signed FOSTA into law, and that should scare us as much as Facebook’s reach into our private lives. But the mainstream media, by and large, was silent. Sex work Twitter, on the other hand, responded as it had been for months in the lead up to the vote, with outrage, sadness, and compassion. If you came late to this issue, hashtags such as #letussurvive can get you up to speed.
In short, FOSTA makes it a federal crime for websites to host content that could “promote” or “facilitate” prostitution.
The law’s supporters claim that it will protect victims of sex trafficking by enabling victims and state attorneys to file lawsuits against those websites that host sex-trafficking ads.
But this law is a blunt tool, and there will be collateral damage. Even the best digital filtering systems have trouble distinguishing between general sexual content and online solicitation, and the differences between sex workers who consent to the exchange of services for money and the adults and children who are victims of sex traffickers are even more difficult to distinguish. I recently had an advertising platform ban one of my pro-domme ads because it explicitly stated “NO SEX,” and the word “sex” was enough for the ad to be flagged and removed. In the wake of this legislation, sex workers have already seen the shuttering of sites that help them make a living safely, screen clients and arrange to meet in safe, controlled environments. For instance, Reddit banned r/Escorts, r/MaleEscorts, r/Hookers, and r/SugarDaddy, subreddits where sex workers shared safety tips and forged community, rather than advertising their services. Our community is doing its best to stay on top of the resources still available, and to create new spaces for camaraderie and harm-reduction.
But even if you aren’t a sex worker, your online sex life is not immune to the havoc FOSTA is already wreaking on free speech.
FetLife, a popular kink-friendly social network, is consulting with its team to determine a course of action. Microsoft and Google have changed their terms of service to prohibit “offensive” or “inappropriate content and language,” concepts so broad that any sexual speech might be prohibited. And FOSTA-induced censorship isn’t limited to public posts: Google is purging adult content from private Drive accounts. Sex workers are undergoing a mass exodus from Gmail and hosting their websites in places outside the “land of the free.” Why are lawmakers unable to fathom the speed and efficiency with which the real criminals—sex traffickers—will do the same, making the work of law enforcement more difficult, and further imperiling the lives of their victims?
So, what can lifestyle kinksters do moving forward? There will be legal challenges to FOSTA. Start paying attention. Listen to sex workers. Follow them on Twitter (while you still can). Sex workers know much about consent and about harm reduction. Speaking of harm reduction, take these models seriously. Even if you don’t believe that sex work should be de-criminalized, you must know that forcing people to work on the streets, or suddenly cutting off their primary source of income, isn’t the right approach.
Make no mistake: this legislation will censor many forms of sexual expression, not just expression by escorts, pro-dommes, massage therapists, and others who engage in sexuality for a living.
Craigslist allowed posters to be nameless and Facebook-less, whereas dating apps often require links to social media accounts, and its closure thereby decreases avenues for pursuing anonymous encounters. The bots that will track our online speech have become the cops patrolling public parks and restrooms, policing the boundaries between public and private that gay (and straight-identifying) men once cruised for a quick and anonymous fuck. Now, the rest of us will finally have to grapple with the loss of our sexual autonomy in a culture that has identified our sex as a problem.
Natalie West is a Los Angeles-based professional Dominatrix, offering private sessions to people of all genders, as well as kink lifestyle coaching for individuals and couples. She has been doing BDSM work for seven years, and also holds a PhD in Gender Studies. She cares about sex workers, women’s health, popular culture, and queer community, and she is currently writing a book of essays about these things. You can find her on Twitter @LesbianDomme