In August, sex worker Lucie Bee was having serious issues with her OnlyFans account. First the site slowed to a crawl, then she couldn’t log on.

Almost immediately, she freaked out.

A 30-year-old, high-profile escort with over 40,000 followers on Twitter, Bee sometimes incorporates cosplay into her sex work, once sewing a costume from scratch when she couldn’t find just the right one to please a client. Living in Australia, Bee works as an escort, but around $2,000 of her monthly earnings come from $10 fees and tips from paid followers on OnlyFans, a subscription-based social media platform that lets creators sell their original content — photos, videos — as well as host one-on-one interactions.

And Bee thought she was going to lose her OnlyFans income. All of it. Because when she was logged out of her account, she leaped to what she believed was the most obvious conclusion: She’d become the latest escort to be banned from the site.

To blame for Bee’s tenuous position? FOSTA-SESTA, a one-two punch of bills signed into law in 2018 in Washington DC, 9,500 miles away. Until these laws change, escorts like Lucie Bee are entirely at their mercy.

Sex work is banned in every US state outside of Nevada, but if you are an escort in Australia — where Bee works legally —  your online presence is bound by stringent US laws giving authorities the power to shut down any website that advertises escort services. In 2021, sites like OnlyFans, Twitter and Instagram will quickly remove any accounts for even the barest mention of escorting, without explanation.

These deletions pose a major problem for workers like Bee, who risks potential financial ruin as a result of escort work, which, where she lives, is perfectly legal and above board.

“At any moment, it can all be taken away,” Bee says.

Granting federal authorities in the US the broad power to shut down any website where escort services are advertised, FOSTA-SESTA is a bill designed to curb sex trafficking on sites like Backstage. Despite good intentions, the bill’s passing inspired broad debate online. The Electronic Frontier Foundation claimed it would “silence online speech,” calling it a “dark day for the internet.”

But supporters of the bill, including Marian Hatcher — a victim advocate and policy analyst — believe freedom of speech is low on the priority list. “Our primary objective must be to end exploitation and prevent the harm that is inherent to those in the sex trade,” she said in an interview with Feminist Current.

Yet the mistake, escorts claim, is assuming all sex workers are being exploited.

Some embrace the profession out of hardship, but many find the work empowering. Above all, sex work is work. FOSTA-SESTA is designed to protect victims involved in nonconsensual trafficking, but overlooks those like Bee involved in consensual, legal sex work.

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Thanks to US laws, sex workers are fighting to stay online by Mark Serrels

Feb. 26 2021