On a sunny June afternoon in Ridgewood, New York, close to 200 sex workers and their allies gather in a windowless queer performance space called the Dreamhouse. A DIY nightclub best known for glittery ragers, the space has been transformed into a welcoming sanctuary for the escorts, pro-dommes, strippers and pornographers participating in a town hall to discuss the federal policies affecting their lives and livelihoods.

“Rights Not Rescue: A Sex Worker Town Hall” was publicized as the first-ever of its kind to be hosted by a congressional candidate. The politician in question was Suraj Patel, a first-time candidate for New York’s 12th Congressional District. Patel, whose campaign platform included a call to defund ICE and legalize marijuana, was the first primary candidate to take an official policy stance against the new federal law SESTA-FOSTA. Although he did not ultimately win the election, Patel’s campaign set a powerful precedent for the importance of sex workers as a constituency.

SESTA-FOSTA, known in Congress as The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act or H.R. 1865, received bipartisan support in an era of rare across the aisle agreement; it was approved with a vote of 388-25 in the House and 97-2 in the Senate. The law was positioned as a way to prevent traffickers to profit online, but the law has had many critics, including free speech activists and human rights organizations. Significantly, its most vocal opposition comes from the population it is ostensibly designed to protect and support: sex workers.

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Sex Workers begin new push for decriminalization by Tina Horn

August 16th, 2018