New Bill Calls For the First-Ever Study of the Health and Safety of Sex Workers

Supermajority Education Fund

January 3, 2020

A recently introduced Congressional bill known as the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act would call for the first-ever national study on the health and safety of sex workers in the United States.

The bill is sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Ro Khanna (CA-17) and Barbara Lee (CA-13). It proposes looking at the impact of the laws known as FOSTA-SESTA (acronyms for the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” and “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act”). While FOSTA-SESTA purported to combat sex trafficking by holding websites liable for hosting trafficking sites, sex workers and advocates say that the measures instead impacted sex workers’ financial wellbeing and physical safety.

In a statement, Rep. Khanna confirmed that “there has been a host of anecdotal reporting from sex workers and community health organizations that following the enactment of SESTA/FOSTA, sex workers have faced greater threats of physical and sexual violence, as they are increasingly pushed off on-line platforms and onto the streets to seek clients.”

Despite these reports, Rep. Khanna added in the statement that no national study has assessed how FOSTA-SESTA impacts sex workers. The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act proposes examining the effect of SESTA/FOSTA on all sex workers while also detailing the disparities in how the law impacted workers of different genders, ethnic groups, legal statuses, and geographical areas.

“For far too long, SESTA-FOSTA has demonized and harmed sex workers,” said Rep. Lee in a statement. “Instead of preventing sex trafficking, SESTA-FOSTA made it harder for sex workers to access critical health and safety resources.”

Advocates hailed the bill as a move in the right direction.

“This bill is an important first step to uplifting the health, safety, and wellbeing of people who trade sex,” Kate D’Adamo, a sex worker rights advocate with Reframe Health and Justice, told Supermajority News. “If FOSTA-SESTA showed us anything, it’s that there is serious harm when you continue to shut out sex workers from these conversations, and we need to learn from these mistakes.”

But while the bill and proposed study primarily focus on the aftermath of FOSTA-SESTA, D’Adamo said the fact that lawmakers are paying attention to the workers at the center of the sex work industry was in itself important.

“What makes the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act landmark is that it’s the first time Congress has considered people who trade sex as a community deserving of life and safety, instead of just unintended consequences,” she said.