The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act in 2018. According to a recent study by Scott Cunningham and John Tripp of Baylor University and Gregory DeAngelo of Claremont Graduate University, the new law made sex work more dangerous.
Critics of FOSTA argued that revoking access to erotic services postings online would make sex work more dangerous as service providers would have to resort to more risky methods of finding clients.
As a result of the act, the U.S. Department of Justice shut down the website Backpage. To avoid legal trouble, Craigslist shut down its personals and erotic services sections.
According to Kay Walker, the Stop the Hate chair of the WSUSA Diversity and Unity Board, these websites simplified the transaction between sex workers and their clients.
These websites allowed sex workers to post advertisements. Interested parties could contact the service providers directly. This allowed sex workers to bypass the need for pimps and street work. Online communication also allowed service providers to screen their clients before meeting up, theoretically leading to safer encounters.
According to the study, these online clearinghouses — specifically the Craigslist erotic services section — reduced U.S. female homicide rates by as much as 10 to 17 percent.
The researchers used data they collected from The Erotic Review, a reputation website, the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Reports and the FBI’s Summary Uniform Crime Reports Part 1.
The researchers suggest that municipal governments and law enforcement should use the data in a cost and benefit analysis to determine whether more strict laws against sex work are worth the additional cost to enforce the laws and worth putting sex workers at greater risk. They also claim that since the passage of FOSTA, law enforcement agencies have reported more sex workers returning to the streets and an increase in pimping activity.
When Walker presented the detriments of FOSTA for sex workers during a lecture in October, several audience members expressed doubts about the validity of the critics’ claims. Cunningham, Tripp and DeAngelo’s study suggests the critics may be right.