Before awkward bed-sharing, some great news! In California, SB233, which provides immunity from prostitution charges for sex workers looking to report experiencing or witnessing victimization, as well as banning the use of condoms as evidence passed the legislature! It's now making its way to the Governor to be signed into law (and there is no indication at all of a veto on that side).
The bill mirrors a similar policy already passed in San Francisco and a brand new law in Washington state. Interested in getting something like this in your city? Alix Lutnick, a brilliant and community-respected researcher and author, wrote about the process of getting the policy through in San Francisco in the Anti-Trafficking Review in April and SWOP-USA has a toolkit on expanding "Good Samaritan Laws" for sex workers.
And the UK-based National Ugly Mugs, a sex worker safety site, celebrated its seventh birthday! Cheers to seven years of keeping folks safe!
This week Hawaii also passed a law making it easier to vacate convictions for people convicted of prostitution crimes, automatically clearing the record for anyone who is not re-arrested within three years. Vacatur laws are a type of "post-coviction" law – those which apply after there's an arrest, charge and guilty plea or conviction on your record – which was developed for victims of trafficking, the idea being that if you were forced to commit a crime you shouldn't have it on your record forever. (New York, the first state to pass such a law, is currently trying to expand the number of crimes covered under this law, since people are picked up on a range of charges while being exploited.) Other types of law which are about clearing your record include expungement and sealing, where the charge is erased from the eyes of some parts of the court.
What makes this victory tricky is that the bill was pushed and championed by anti-sex work and pro-end demand group Af3irm, which describes itself as a transnational feminist organization. While the group shares some values, such as promoting women of color leadership and resisting intersectional forms of oppression, one of their main campaigns has been against sex work. Advocacy, and especially policy, is one of those jobs where sometimes you climb in bed with people you side-eye to reach incremental goals. We should certainly celebrate the impact it will have on the lives of some of those with records, and it will take sex worker-led organizing to move further towards decriminalization.
Unexpected fact of the day? Florida has the move expansive vacatur law in the country.
Big Tech: Still Not Your Friend
Last year, a lot of the SESTA/FOSTA related conversation centered on Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act. The provision says that internet platforms are not responsible for the content which gets posted by its users. (Trying to sell coke on Craigslist? Not Craigslist's fault. They aren't reading your snowflake emoji-covered post). While there are a range of nuances beyond that very simple description, the section has been credited with allowing conditions which expanded the possibilities of the internet (note: often websites are credited, but what this actually did was give them enough cover to let porn producers, sex workers and others to push the boundaries on their sites without fear of criminal liability). The conversation on FOSTA/SESTA and internet liability has been enmeshed from the beginning in a growing dialogue on the responsibility of platforms to address things like hate speech, doctored videos and calls to violence.
Last week, Sen Hawley introduced a bill to try and force big tech companies to produce politically-neutral platforms. The bill would force large tech companies to apply for immunity by going through an external audit, which gets presented with the immunity application the Federal Trade Commission. While it's focused on political neutrality, it would mean huge oversight from the government for websites. The bill doesn't look like it has legs to move, but it does show where lawmakers' heads are. And while tech companies have been quick to jump on this, they also haven't learned their lesson at all about understanding how trafficking works, and groups like the Internet Association continue to mention "monitoring" in their press release.
This Tuesday, July 9th, the Judiciary Committee of the Senate, led by Lindsay Graham – the hyper-conservative, yet achingly spineless Southern Senator who isn't Mitch McConnell – will hold a Senate Hearing called "Protecting Innocence in the Digital World." Not clear who will be speaking but rest assured it'll go after porn. You can watch the hearing at 10am on Tuesday at that link, and don't forget your cat gifs for after. Another unfortunate supporter? California Senator Dianne Feinstein:
For folks in the London area:
This summer, the Heaux History Project has been running a really amazing book club on books centering the experience of Black sex workers. It's not too late to join in!
And when talking about laws and criminalization, it's never too often to review your safety plan in case of an arrest. Here are two guides to creating an arrest plan, one from SWOP-USA and one from (the now sadly dissolved) SWOP-NYC, as well as some basic Know Your Rights information, including tech security during police stops.
OK. Back to the grind, y'all.