Amanda Lang discusses how the internet made sex work safer and helped her find a community, and how the livelihood and safety of sex workers is under attack following the passing of bills SESTA and FOSTA.
See our other article on the dangers of SESTA-FOSTA here :).
As a sex worker living in the 21st century, I have been fortunate enough to be given options as to how I manage my profession. The pop-culture approved image of prostitution – one in which sex workers “walk the streets” – is now only one of many different methods that can be used to garner clientele. There are dominatrixes who promote themselves on Tumblr, there are full service workers who maintain their clientele through Snapchat, and strippers who moonlight as cam girls in the privacy of their own homes. For many of us, our bread and butter is the freedom of online, freelance, self promotion.
Sex workers don’t have a union. We don’t sign contracts (with the exception of my S/M submissives, but that is a different story), and often we don’t have anyone but ourselves and our fellow workers to turn to for protection and solidarity.
The internet has provided sex workers with a newfound sense of community. It’s now much easier to find one another, which in turn makes it easier and safer to share information and tips when choosing new clients. It would be naive to say that online solicitation is devoid of risks, but it is a calculated risk, with undeniable benefits.
Through the internet, sex workers are able to establish their own websites, screen their own clients, and make their own hours. This gives us the freedom to not have to rely on a pimp or a madame, or anyone else who might take away from our own earnings, or more insidiously, try to exploit us and put our safety at risk for their own personal gain.
I am often asked how I stay safe as a sex worker – whether I am scared meeting essential strangers from the internet in such an intimate setting. I can honestly say that I have never felt threatened or unsafe in any way upon meeting any of my clients since going independent. Unfortunately I cannot say the same in relation to some of the clients I had when I worked at the Midtown Dungeon. This newfound sense of safety and control comes from being able to employ a variety of internet-specific screening techniques in order to make sure I am only meeting with someone I want to meet.
I promote myself primarily through Seeking Arrangement and Switter. And believe me, I get A LOT of messages from both of those sites. And (no surprises here), a lot of them are creepy at best, terrifying at worst. Those are the people I delete and block – I don’t bother responding. A quote that has become somewhat of a mantra for me in this industry comes from the Docuseries Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. Camgirl and Penthouse cover girl Bailey Rayne tells the interviewer: “If I had to put myself in an uncomfortable situation in order to pay my bills, I would not be empowered.” I do my best to try to live by that. The truth is, sex work is primarily how I make my money. I need it to pay my bills, but I also find enjoyment and independence through the work I do. And the internet means I don’t have to respond to everyone who contacts me.
On Seeking Arrangement, you can go through someone’s pictures, see if their account has been verified, and essentially be given the sort of information you can get from a dating site. Messaging is only allowed for Premium profiles, which have to be purchased. Each of these steps, from the photos, to the online messages, creates a barrier that allows me to decide whether the person I am talking to has earned the opportunity to see me in person. Now, because of SESTA and FOSTA, any online conversation I have with these people could put me in danger of being accused of sex trafficking.
I talked to my friend James*, a a former escort and Dom from New York, about what the bills mean for sex work. “Removing safe open online platforms for sex workers will end up causing more harm to the communities it purports to aid,” he tells me, “because it takes away one of the only ways for sex workers to autonomously operate their businesses online without having to go through pimps or more unsafe underground ways to advertise.”
Switter, or “sex work Twitter”, is the first sex work-focused website to pop up after the demise of Craigslist Personals and Backpage. Switter works for a variety of reasons, not least because of, unlike on Twitter, sex workers are able to speak openly and freely amongst themselves and with their clients. Switter is an Austrian site, which is notable because prostitution is legal in Austria, which circumvents the danger of facing scrutiny from US lawmakers.
While Seeking Arrangement focuses primarily on the comfort of its male clients (Seeking Arrangement was created by Brandon Wade who also founded Carrot Dating, a site which advertises itself as “nerdy guys bribing hot women to date them”); Switter lets SWs advertise their services via the site’s listings attachment, which gives us a lot more autonomy.
I personally haven’t gained many clients through the site (I know a lot of girls who have, don’t get me wrong, this is just the way I personally work), but what I have been able to do is connect with a larger community of sex workers. Essentially, you can follow a profile via the site and boost their statuses, allowing your own following to connect to the profile that you are promoting. It’s basically the closest thing to a sorority that I have ever been a part of.
And that is really what, for me, has been the scariest part of losing control over my internet presence in the wake of SESTA-FOSTA: the isolation. The feeling that I no longer have support to fall back on, that if I have a bad vibe or have found myself in a scary situation, that I could more easily reach out to someone who has been in a similar situation and take comfort in the shared experience, no matter where they live.
The fact that Switter only popped up after SESTA-FOSTA passed is a beacon to the community. A sign that our fight is not yet over.
“SESTA-FOSTA is Trump’s direct attack on sex workers, and it came right after rumors surfaced about him paying porn stars for sex,” says Fallon*, a 23-year-old Dominatrix and college student, in a conversation we had about the future of sex work. “The bills have already hurt thousands of sex workers all throughout the country and net neutrality is under attack. I wouldn’t say it is completely safe to solicit sex on the internet (there are risks like violence and scams), but it is a risk I will take to keep myself from depending on the system that aims to keep us down. Sex workers take risks every day just to survive, and we won’t stop our fight over a hypocritical set of bills.”
The scariest part is that the law isn’t solely connected to Trump, but also to a group of democrats. What senators like Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris (women who support the bills under the guise of feminism) don’t realize is that consensual sex work is a feminist act in itself. For many of us, sex work is a form of independence we could not otherwise have. It represents the freedom to pursue our creative endeavors without having to worry about where our next paycheck is coming from. It represents the harnessing of our own bodies and own sexuality for our personal benefit instead of the benefit of an often male counterpart. The internet gives us the option of this independence. And we’re not ready to give that option up just yet.