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Technology + the Sex(y) Worker



I'm at a big tech conference this week for muggle purposes. My brain is currently overflowing with librarian stuff, but I can't help but think about how the tech tools and resources I'm learning about could impact sex workers (and friends).


As a matter of semantics, I put myself in the "and friends" category. I'll call myself a sex(y) worker, but I personally do not define myself as a bonafide sex worker. My main source of income does not come from sex work. I don't do any paid work dealing with erections and the like. For a really interesting perspective on this subject, check out the article "Burlesque Performer: You Are Not a Sex Worker" by performer Mary Cyn.


If someone calls me a sex worker, I definitely wouldn't be offended. I would, however, want to talk to them candidly about the physical, mental, and emotional labor real sex workers must go through in order to simply do their job. Me, on the other hand -- I'm just a burlesque performer who tries not to cringe too hard when a pastie pops off. In my opinion, it's not fair to compare something as trivial as losing a pastie to the real dangers sex workers face. Note that my own opinion is just one out of many others. I know burlesque performers who identify as sex workers simply because they remove their clothing onstage, and I know others who identify as performance artists for that very same reason.


However you identify, navigating technology as a member of the "sex worker and friends" club can be difficult. Here's a brief round-up of technology issues that impact us and resources that could possibly help. (Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and nothing I write should be taken as legal advice.)


SESTA/FOSTA

The quick-and-dirty of this law? It is now more difficult for sex workers to do business online, including marketing, safety screenings, and digitally accepting clients. Congress passed the "Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act" and the "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" as a package on April 11, 2018, enacting misguided and ill-informed legal attempts to curb sex trafficking. SESTA/FOSTA makes little distinction between sex work and sex trafficking, which is a dangerous and common mistake.


Now, in a post-SESTA/FOSTA digital environment, websites that knowingly assist, facilitate, or support any type of sex work could be held civilly liable for the actions of its users. SESTA/FOSTA amends the Section 230 safe harbors of the Communications Decency Act, which funny enough has never shielded websites from criminal liability for its users' content -- meaning giants like Backpage.com, who's CEO pled guilty to charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering, could have been prosecuted a long time ago. But the company wasn't seized until April 2018, when SESTA/FOSTA became law.


One year later, and the passage of SESTA/FOSTA has done the opposite of its intended purpose. Sex trafficking has increased with an even more sophisticated and elusive criminal infrastructure (as opposed to when cops could easily read Backpage ads, separate the regular sex workers from criminally liable traffickers, and conduct successful raids). A "side effect" (or perhaps the intended effect, knowing political attitudes towards sex workers): a hostile digital climate that led to dangerous spikes in violence and a lack of security for sex workers and friends. This law could be used to shut down the majority of the web giants like Craigslist, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, etc., so they have responded with Draconian filtering policies that basically censor anyone remotely involved with sex work. Even Google Drive has reportedly been quietly removing adult content. Also, sex workers and friends have lost our ability to easily digitally organize large-scale harm reduction efforts.


So how do we work around it? A few options:

  • Switch platforms. Get off Facebook and Instagram, and move on to Switter or Eros. Get off GMail and move on to sex-worker-friendly ProtonMail. Get off Google Drive and move on to Tresorit for secure file-sharing. And so on.

  • Stay on top of social media censors. You'd have to stomach self-censorship, but one option is to try and follow their silly "no nudity" rules, and always check to see if you've been shadow-banned. This article also has a nice little overview of how to avoid shadow-banning, if you're not familiar with the term.

  • Use a non-U.S. website server. Obviously I and many others use Wix or Square, but these sites are subject to the same regulations as any other North American website under SESTA/FOSTA. Here's a great article on how to set up an offshore website.

  • Encrypt your communications. Use web tools like Signal, Safe Office, Wire, Threema, Wickr, or Viber to keep all of your communications completely secure. Read this article to find out how to easily encrypt all the sex work things.

  • Use a private browser. Tor is the most popular. It hides your location and usage, so it's harder to monitor your activities. You can download Tor here.

  • Set up a VPN. Use a "Virtual Private Network" for another layer of security. VPN adds data encryption and bypasses your location. LifeHacker’s article on VPNs has a lot of helpful tips.

  • Use cryptocurrency. Every tech douche a-hole is saying the word "Bitcoin" these days, and now sex workers are too! Yay. Cryptocurrency is basically a peer-to-peer digital cash system. Everything is decentralized - it's basically digital money. With it, you can privately pay for ads and other services, and clients can pay you - all without exchanging any personal information. H.R.2219 - the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2018 - purports to cut off access to banking services for sex traffickers -- and we know, by now, that politicians routinely and incorrectly lump sex work in with sex trafficking. Kraken in a great U.S. based cryptocurrency.

  • Virtual Reality. You think I'm playing - but I'm not! VR is already being used in the fields of art, education, real estate, medicine, even interior design. Sex work is up next (if it isn't already privately being used). In the next five years or so, sex workers and friends could use virtual, extended, or augmented reality to employ spacial computing techniques to get clients off, digitally. There are currently Multi-Sensory Masks for VR Headsets on the market for like 50 bucks, and clients can use them to see, feel, smell, taste, etc. things that are not actually in their physical presence. This could mean a truly safe working environment for sex workers in the future.

There are people, like my sister Briq House and the bad-ass Incredible Edible Akynos, who have dedicated their personal and professional lives to advocating for sex workers. If you want to get involved, reach out to:

This is obviously not a full list of all the amazing sex worker advocates out there, so I hope to find even more. I had lots of fun writing this, and I will try to keep my blog up to date with the latest tech trends for the Sex Worker and Friends Club!


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