FOSTA Causing New Risks For Native American Sex Workers: Report

FOSTA, the new law aimed at curbing online sex trafficking that took effect in April, has been widely criticized for having the opposite effect from its stated intention—actually making the lives of sex workers more dangerous while at the same time creating new roadblocks for law enforcement efforts to track actual traffickers, as reported earlier this month.

But the law has also had a disproportionate effect on one especially vulnerable group—Native American women for whom professional sex work has provides economic opportunity in “a climate where tribal values largely empower men,” according to an article by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College.

The John Jay article was based on an appearance by several Native American sex workers and advocates on the nationally broadcast public radio program Native America Calling, which on its July 19 broadcast examined the new risks posed to, and possible ways to create support for, Native American sex workers.

Native American women are already exceptionally vulnerable to violence, according to a 2010 United States Department of Justice study. The DoJ research found an incredible 84 percent of Native American, including Native Alaskan, women saying they have been victims of violence—with more than 56 percent saying they have been victims of sexual violence in their lifetimes.

The study also found that about 730,000 Native American and Alaskan women have been victims of violence within the past year—that’s one of every three.

According to Becky Jones, a member of the Diné tribe who is a Planned Parenthood sexual health educator, FOSTA has already increased the threat of violence to Native American sex workers.

“The intention sounds positive, but the impact that [the law] has on people who are being trafficked and on sex workers is pretty negative,” she said on the program, adding that the law has stripped the women of the capability to “screen for particular clients that might be super violent.”

Because sex work is one of the few economic options available to women on tribal lands, according to the Native America Calling panel, the occupation needs more legal protection, not less—and needs to have the social stigma on sex work removed.

“The stigma is definitely hard to talk about and combat,” Jones said. “I hear it in the classroom, too. One way I can combat and stand up for sex workers is to help squash myths about how sex workers are ‘dirty,’ or have unprotected sex, when in general a lot of sex workers take really good care of themselves, of their bodies, and of their health.”

Cheyenne Antonio of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, and also a member of the Diné, called the FOSTA law “completely dangerous.”

“Sex work is a human right, and the criminalization of sex work was the root of the problem,” Antonio, who supports legalization of prostitution, said on the program.

Full audio of the July 19 Native American Calling broadcast may be accessed at this link

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski / Flicker Creative Commons 

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