Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2018

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Trump’s sex trafficking bills create greater risks for workers, some say

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A screenshot shows the message on the homepage of backpage.com.

This month, President Donald Trump signed two bills aimed at combating sex trafficking just days after the Department of Justice seized the sex ad website backpage.com. But many sex workers and sex work activists — including those in Las Vegas — are arguing that the implementation of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), and the takedown of Backpage simultaneously endanger consenting sex workers.

Similar to the classified website Craigslist, Backpage allowed sex workers to advertise for services but also vet clients before they met them, explained UNLV sociology professor Barbara Brents. “You could ask a series of questions or arrange to meet [a client] at a site that might be safer … which is quite a different scenario than meeting someone for a first encounter when you know nothing about that person.”

And while Backpage was shut down for being complicit in sex trafficking, Brents said “trafficking is a small percentage of what happens” within the industry.

Rather than taking down websites that give sex workers agency, camera model Anna Lim said the decriminalization and regulation of the industry, similar to marijuana, is the best way to keep people safe.

Brents agreed. “Studies find that if the goal is to shut down prostitution, it just goes underground,” Brents said. “If the goal is to reduce the harm and increase the rights for the [people] engaging in it, then that industry becomes much more visible to law enforcement ... The best prevention of trafficking is other sex workers who know how the industry works, [who] can report cases to the police without fear of getting arrested themselves.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.