In the last several weeks, the murder of George Floyd has sparked protests across the world which are already changing the landscape of America. In a moment which Angela Davis described as holding “possibilities for change we have never before experienced,” we are seeing the calls to "radically re-imagine what safety looks like." Across the country, cities and states are asking what it would mean to abolish the police [New York Times] or at least defund/divest from law enforcement and instead to build up community support. These conversations have resulted in the Minneapolis City Council committing to dismantling the police [CNN], Congressional Democrats introducing the Justice in Policing Act [PBS], and Seattle creating a six-block Capital Hill Autonomous Zone [NPR].
It is not hard to see how these conversations are impactful to discussions on decriminalization, and more broadly to improving the lives of sex workers [The Stranger]. Sex workers are harassed and have lives ruined by a range of laws, including but not exclusive to prostitution statutes. Police violence against sex workers has been documented from city-based community groups [SnapCo] to the World Health Organization [WHO]. Decriminalization of sex work is just one piece of a larger conversation on how to push back on state violence that steals lives and decimates communities. Standing up for decrim right now looks like standing up for Black lives and sex worker liberation is not fully realized without Black liberation.
Broader calls have also been made to confront the legacy of anti-Blackness that is pervasive in American culture. Even while these calls have been made for a national reckoning to confront racism, anti-Black violence has continued. In the last week alone, anti-Black violence took the lives of Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, Oluwatoyin Salau (who helped lead a protest against the police murder of Tony McDade), and Nakia Crawford were all murdered, and Priscilla Slater passed away while in police custody. All on top of the murder by police of Breonna Taylor, whose family is still fighting for justice. In response to the murders of Riah Milton and Dominique Fells, 15,000 people came together in New York to say that Black Trans Lives Matter, and Pride in LA reminded us that All Black Lives Matter.
COVID: Tech Takes Over
While the coronavirus is still running rampant, and states begin to fear a second wave of infections, sex workers are remaining resilient. While mutual aid funds [BillyPenn] have continued to support struggling community members, and in other countries sex workers have begun to show what steps they're taking [Forbes] to combat the virus, others have found new avenues on the internet. Some sex workers have moved off of traditional platforms and onto platforms like Second Life [Chicago Reader] and Animal Crossing [I-D Vice] to connect with clients.
This ingenuity (one of the most common, distinct traits through the sex worker community) also stems from the persistent commitment for the tech industry to boot sex workers in order to score points. Just as sex workers have been forced to create a stronger online presence, it seems OnlyFans is now kicking off the same folks who made the platform worthwhile [Rolling Stone].
And all of this is just the tip of the much larger conversation around repealing the liability protections which have kept many internet platforms in business (230 liability platforms mean that they're not able to be sued or shut down for hosting your content). As EARN IT stalls in the Senate, other attempts to regulate the internet are popping up. Recently, Pres Trump issued an executive order which directs Federal agencies to report on their online advertising, as well as directs the drafting of legislation around 230 liability [Brookings Institute]. Since then, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has proposed removing 230 protections for websites which use behaviorally-directed advertising [Politico]. It's not clear how these are going to impact sex workers, or the sites used by the sex industry, but the conversation is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
With so many tech companies based in the US, federal policy often sets the tone which reverberates internationally, but that doesn't mean other countries aren't part of the conversation. In India, privacy concerns, especially for sex workers and trans sex workers in particular, are ramping up as the government institutes more requirements for payment apps, social services and biometric data [Scroll.in].
Criminalization Continues... for now.
But while many people are getting on board with understanding that police violence is a health risk [JSTOR] and that targeting sex workers isn't the answer to a pandemic [UNAIDS] not everyone got the memo. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who narrowly beat out progressive champion Tiffany Caban, is committed to using the "Human Trafficking Unit" to prosecute clients instead of fighting trafficking [QNS].
But things are looking up in New York, where the #WalkingWhileTrans bill, which would repeal the loitering statute, has enough co-sponsors to pass the Senate this term [Gay City News].
Sex Workers are Heroes
And to end on a note of why community is so great, sex workers have been doing incredible mutual aid work in the last few months that's worth celebrating. Sex workers in Seattle built a hand sanitizer factory [HuffPost], two Philly funds have distributed thousands, and Kai Cheng talked about why mutual aid work has restored faith in community [Autostraddle].
Sex workers are heroes. Back to the grind.