Almost three years ago, a Temple University student decided to find a better job to help her cover the cost of living.
“I was working in retail and was barely making my rent payments,” she said. The student requested to remain anonymous for this article.
She thought about taking a barback job, but after going to an audition at a strip club, she decided to work as a stripper.
Some college students use sex work, which can include stripping, as a way to fund the expenses that come along with college life, including tuition, textbooks, and housing, according to the News Record, University of Cincinnati’s student newspaper.
Sex work has become an umbrella term for an array of professions, including cam girling, acting in porn, being a dominatrix, being a prostitute and being a stripper, according to society and culture website Hopes & Fears.
Since the introduction of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act in 2018, known as FOSTA-SESTA, life has become more difficult for sex workers.
The FOSTA-SESTA is a set of laws attempting to limit online sex trafficking and further criminalize online prostitution, according to the bill. Anyone using the internet as a means of prostitution or sex trafficking can face 10 years in prison.
Although the student does not use online platforms to promote her work, she said her coworkers have been affected. One of her friends paid her rent through money she received from clients through services she offered online. In an instant, she said, her friend lost that income.
These laws are also a potential safety hazard, according to a 2019 joint study at Baylor University and Claremont Graduate University. Online services, like Craigslist’s “erotic services” section, reduced the female homicide rate by at least 10 percent, the study estimated.
It concluded that the passage of FOSTA-SESTA could result in “adverse safety consequences,” because the act led to the shutdown of sites sex workers had used to screen clients.
The student saw this impact firsthand when her coworker expressed her concern after the shutdown of Backpage.com, a website that posted online personal ads, Slate reported.
“Now [my friend] isn’t able to screen people, and she was just worried about having to possibly meet people that she wasn’t able to like background checks she wasn’t able to get their IDs anymore, and having the possibility of having much more dangerous encounters,” she said.
Clients are the biggest safety concern for the student, particularly because of society’s attitudes toward sex workers, she said.
“The people who mistreat us at the club would never treat a person or a woman that they met at a bar this way but because we’re strippers, they think that that can just say whatever they want or touch us anywhere they want,” she said.
Misconceptions about sex workers fuel laws like FOSTA-SESTA, the student said. She feels the law was guided by the belief that sex workers, like victims of human trafficking, are forced into their profession.
“Unfortunately it was designed to tackle human sex trafficking, which is horrible, but it’s different than voluntary sex work,” she said.
There has been legislative pushback to FOSTA-SESTA. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) recently sponsored the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act alongside Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).
“For far too long, [FOSTA-SESTA] has demonized and harmed sex workers,” Lee said in a press release in December 2019. “Instead of preventing sex trafficking, [FOSTA-SESTA] made it harder for sex workers to access critical health and safety resources.”
Still, the student feels an important voice is missing from the legislative conversation: the sex workers themselves.
“It was a law made by people who are not sex workers themselves, which is why it doesn’t help us at all,” she said.
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