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Through these type of online service sites, people who trade sex can get identifying details from their clients—names, email addresses, phone numbers, and usernames, for example—and do a bit of digging online to find out more about their history interacting with sex workers.
And that’s where platforms like Reddit, Hung Angels, and Verify Him, a screening site for online daters, came in.
Those online spaces gave sex workers a way to share more information about those potential clients, as well as exchange safety tips, tech advice, and support, she says.
“[Verify Him] shut down its communication tools where you can see that [a client] has been verified, but then you can actually communicate with people about that person and about their experiences, which is so desperately important,” she told Rewire. “That is how people are staying safe.” Without those sites, D’Adamo continues, many people who trade sex not only lose a means of generating income, they’re also denied access to vital services and information that could save their lives. News also reached out to Craigslist and Reddit for comment, as their changes have been heavily scrutinized in the last week, but did not hear back in time for publication.
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“We’re trying to prepare ourselves for what alternative possibilities can be while really being unsure of how this is going to be enforced and what the actual final form that this bill is going to come in,” Holloway said.
The significant change in or outright loss of these sites causes real harm to sex workers, especially those living at the margins, such as transgender women and women of color, says Survivors Against SESTA member Kate D’Adamo, a national policy advocate and community organizer at the Sex Workers Project.
Sex workers who advertised their services on Craigslist Personals, My Scarlet Book, Pounced, and similar online classifieds could screen their potential clients and determine whether or not it’s safe to schedule a session.
But what’s happened in the last week has been nothing short of disturbing for those in the sex work industry. The bill amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act so that websites and social media platforms are now held accountable for third-party activity related to sex trafficking or prostitution, thus conflating consensual sex work with criminal acts.
In other words: SESTA, and its counterpart in the U. House of Representatives, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), treats tech platforms as publishers of user-generated content, rather than hosts of that content.
In the end, SESTA is a dangerous bill that will have implications for both sex workers and the tech sector, advocates say, beyond what has happened so far—and all before Trump could even put pen to paper.