Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance

Affirming Sexual Freedom as a Fundamental Human Right

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Civil Liberties Groups Condemn Government Attacks on Escort Service Providers – Cite First Amendment and Human Rights Concerns

We are categorically opposed to human trafficking. We strenuously oppose any measure that makes people more vulnerable to human trafficking. We also stand in opposition to measures that crush constitutionally protected civil liberties under the guise of combatting human trafficking. Increasingly, laws against human trafficking are being used as a pretext to trample civil liberties and to harass, intimidate and violate the rights of individuals engaged in legal activities. For those reasons, we are outraged by the recent passage in the House of Representatives of the SAVE Act, and the recent seizure of MyRedBook.com, as part of “Operation Cross Country.”  Both are misguided attempts to combat human trafficking.

One of the results of the week-long FBI sting was the unilateral seizure of the assets of MyRedBook.com, a notable online escort advertising/social networking forum, and the subsequent arrests of the site’s operators. This is a textbook example of prior restraint on speech. Seizure of a social networking forum such as MyRedBook.com, prior to any proof of guilt or opportunity to be heard, violates fundamental notions of due process, the presumption of innocence, and freedom of speech.  Additionally, this sets a dangerous precedent and no website will be safe if the government can shut it down based purely on objection to its content.

This assault on due process rights comes on the heels of passage of the SAVE Act (HR 4225) by the House of Representatives last month.  Civil and human rights groups like the ACLU and Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance oppose the SAVE Act. While, on the surface, the legislation seems only to explicitly criminalize the advertising of already-criminal commercial sex acts involving minors and unwilling participants, in fact it is a thinly disguised attempt to eliminate internet safety zones for those individuals engaged in legal escort work. If the SAVE Act is signed into law, it will effectively force websites, including advertising directories that provide a safe outlet for escorts to control their exposure and sustain their businesses, to censor escort ads, comments, and discussion boards, or be faced with criminal liability in the event that an individual advertiser is found to be involved in human trafficking.  See; https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4225

Not only does the SAVE Act jeopardize our Constitutionally protected rights to due process and to free speech but it also interferes with human rights, putting the very people it is intended to help at greater risk of violence and exploitation.

Seizure of sites like myRedBook.com contribute to the problem. As recently noted by SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Project) in a statement:

“Many Bay Area sex workers have been able to improve their working conditions by using MyRedbook, as the site provided a private, discreet venue for negotiations that otherwise often happen in a public venues [sic] or on the street.”  Escorts use these online services to protect themselves and each other from violence by exchanging information and achieving greater control over their work.

Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right that the United States has agreed to protect. In 2010, during the United Nations Universal Period Review of the human rights record of the United States, sexual rights groups led by sex workers introduced Recommendation 86, that would “…ensure access to public services paying attention to the special vulnerability of sexual workers to violence and human rights abuses.”  The United States agreed, on the international stage, to accept this recommendation, thus committing itself to protecting the rights of escorts and other sexual laborers to be free from violence yet, to date, there are have been no positive actions, only negative actions like the SAVE Act that take safety tools away from escorts in clear violation of this commitment.

The SAVE Act, and the seizure of resources like MyRedBook.com, will not reduce or eliminate trafficking. Rather, such actions increase vulnerability to trafficking by undermining the ability of escorts to work independently. Such actions are also likely to force them underground, which reduces their ability to report abuses, violence, or trafficking to the authorities. Such actions clearly have a devastating impact on the potential independence and safety of escorts. This is as bad in practice as it is in policy.

Make no mistake: the federal government is attacking those involved in the escort industry for exercising their constitutional rights to free association, free expression, and free assembly.  In the process, it is compromising the human right of escorts to be free from violence. Based on recent actions, it is clear that the Department of Justice and many lawmakers believe that escorts should NOT have the freedom to exercise these fundamental rights.

The realistic impact of government actions in the on-going War on Sex, like passage of the SAVE Act and forced closure of sites like MyRedBook.com, is the systematic elimination of constitutionally protected civil liberties, the increasing of risk to escort workers.

Human trafficking will not be eradicated by blanket criminalization of the escort industry. It will be eradicated by smart harm reduction policies, judicial reform, and economic and social justice initiatives, including those specifically targeting young people. The SAVE Act accomplishes none of this.

We urge members of the Senate to oppose the SAVE Act, and members of the general public to make their voices heard in opposition to these attacks against fundamental human rights that are in direct violation of our Constitution.

Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance
Desiree Alliance
Defending Dissent Foundation
Red Umbrella Project
Sexual Rights and Gender Justice MIAT of the US Human Rights Network

  • So what you think about this decision? is escorts are legal for us? I think this would be very energize question.

  • goddessdionne

    There are good reasons why ladies in the Fem dom life style get carried away classified as non sexual workers , would there be another classification rendered to this group of people. the law can go so far to control ones behavior in the outside the four walls of what consenting adults can do in the privacy of their own home . Behind closed i have the upper hand of my submissive adult, so during our play its only the two of us that engage in such adult fantasies and realities , the exchange of money, tribute, gifts is only known to the two individuals. The punters and the workers of this industry are familiar with their way of life so to assume rights , in this sector one can realize it within the own sphere where the authorities tend to have a blind but suggest you should still pay taxes under a disguise of a different classification. Mistress D