03/07/2018 Statement on the upcoming parliamentary debate on introducing SESTA/FOSTA style legislation in the UK

National Ugly Mugs joins sex worker rights groups, sex worker projects and human rights organisations across the UK in voicing our opposition to the proposed introduction of Trump inspired ‘anti-trafficking’ legislation - known in the US as FOSTA/SESTA.

On Wednesday July 4th, Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, has organised a debate within the House of Commons which calls for the introduction of legislation which would ban websites that allow sex workers to advertise their services to potential clients, support each other as a community, as well as allow sex workers to share information about dangerous clients.

While proponents of this legislation claim that these laws reduce trafficking and sexual exploitation, we only need look to the USA, where this legislation was recently passed, to see the true effects. American sex workers are reporting a decrease in their safety, an increase in exploitative managers controlling their working conditions and an increase in sex workers being forced to turn to precarious outdoor work in order to survive.

National Ugly Mugs know that outdoor sex workers bear the brunt of criminalisation and police abuse under the current legal framework which criminalises solicitation on the street and fines sex workers through public order offences. The introduction of further laws which push sex workers onto the streets would therefore make even more people vulnerable to violence and arrest.

National Ugly Mugs understands that by calling for this debate Sarah Champion MP has mistakenly identified advertising platforms as fueling sexual exploitation; however, evidence has shown that indoor sex workers who use the internet to advertise their services are safer than sex workers who do not.

She has failed to understand that these websites provide a platform that enables sex workers to vet clients, and that they hold vital intelligence which could support police investigations and allow greater access to justice and protection, aiding in the conviction of dangerous individuals who operate in our communities.

In their recent study Beyond the Gaze reported that 89.4% of consulted sex workers believe that the internet allows them the freedom to work independently without having to rely on ‘third parties’ who may be exploitative.

Sex workers should never become collateral damage in politicians’ moral crusades. If Sarah Champion wishes to reduce sexual exploitation and trafficking she must first listen to sex workers themselves, the majority of whom call for full decriminalisation of the sex industry. She must also recognise the role that the criminalisation of migration plays in creating the conditions for trafficking and exploitation, and understand that only by treating sex work as work can we begin to uphold the safety and human rights of sex workers.

If the UK government are looking for models of good practice to improve the safety of sex workers then they should not be looking to implement SESTA-FOSTA style laws here in the UK, rather, they should be looking to work with these sites as opposed to shutting them down.  Closure of sites under the guise of stopping sexual exploitation and trafficking will only serve to push both legal sex work and illegal trafficking further underground and make both sex workers and the victims of trafficking and exploitation less safe.

National Ugly Mugs’ mission is to end violence against sex workers and we would expect MP’s and authorities to work with us to address this serious issue.  We are wholly shocked by what we are reading, hearing and seeing right now from some politicians and National Ugly Mugs will be here to support sex workers in their fight for the right to be safe. We hope that MP’s who genuinely work for their constituents will oppose these laws and listen to the voices and needs of the sex workers who would be impacted by policy change in this area, rather than MP’s who will not.

The consequences for sex workers of a SESTA/FOSTA style legislation will be all too real as they will have to continue to operate in a more unsafe environment.  The lack of knowledge and willful ignorance about the effect of such legislation on sex workers exhibited by the APPG inquiry’s final report that is being cited as evidence for this debate has been clearly biased through the exclusion of evidence submitted by sex workers.  This is an atrocious approach to forming public policy; which should always seek answers and engagement from those it will impact on the most.

If you would like to support sex workers rights and resist the introduction of these misguided, dangerous laws please consider attending the demonstration which will be held on Wednesday July 4th between 1-2pm outside the Houses of Commons. If you cannot attend in person, please consider emailing your MP to ask them to represent your views. You can do this by using this template, it only takes 2 minutes of your time!

Every one of us has the right to be safe and that includes sex workers!