Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Are Revenge Porn Laws Actually Ignoring the Rights of Sex Workers?

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By Alison Stevens

For many victims of online shaming (as well as every sex worker) the wrath of being “outed” by Craigslist’s adult services section created a strong sense of isolation.

While Craigslist announced in 2014 it would de-emphasize its category, it was not the beginning of the end for its users. Instead, as Jon Radtke notes in his article “Time’s Up for Stiff Fines on the Web,” their work in creating “alternative escort platforms” made legal-themed sites such as Backpage easy targets for opponents of online sex-trafficking.

Internet talk site Backpage is currently fighting charges it facilitated prostitution.

For the English-speaking transgendered community, that didn’t change much. For them, to help quell this discrimination and revenge porn they have taken a different tack. Other anti-harassment sites developed to combat online shaming include Anti-STALKER.org, Kazaak.org, Mieku.org, Just Be.org, PeepURL.org, TransgenderedXL.org, and TransforAll.org.

As sex workers, we have no option but to take them up on this help. Even today, while using online-forum places like Meetup.com, we struggle to make our lives more tolerable and profitable. Over time, the U.S. government’s wrath and threats to shut them down only increased the numbers of transgendered people subject to online humiliation.

Then we heard… nothing.

The words of the U.S. Department of Justice targeting revenge porn victims and transgendered victims appear now only in the past tense.

A notice from the U.S. Department of Justice, dated Jan. 20, 2018, will no longer be enforced on an online forum for transgendered sex workers.

“The Department of Justice has ceased enforcement of this section as part of an investigation into revenge porn websites, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered an immediate halt to the Office of Victims of Crime’s enforcement of Section 1373(a),” the notice says.

When I initially heard about this unexpected outcome, I found it surprising, the site specific and positive, and at the same time sad.

It was a part of the administration’s 2014 definition of revenge porn when then Attorney General Eric Holder (now the U.S. Attorney General) unveiled the DOJ’s first-ever guidelines for social media networks that refuse to remove revenge porn. We thought that these criminal aspects of revenge porn, supported by DOMA, would be criminalized by the administration.

As sexual assault survivors and rights activists, we felt we had a right to be named as victims of someone else’s online humiliation and seeking legal redress.

Currently, there is a gaping hole in federal law. DOMA makes it illegal to name victims of these crimes. We always found the specific language of Section 1373, which bans revenge porn, confusing and confusing. Since refusing to delete revenge porn results in criminal prosecution for distributing such material, we expected this federal law to reach all persons who have offended anyone, regardless of their sex or gender identity.

Not so much. And that’s not good enough for us. We’re still looking for safer ways to protect our safety and identity, especially with so many social media platforms and entrepreneurs that seek to co-opt us for profit. If it isn’t improved by the time the start of my second week in office, I’ll be ready to take a different approach.

Luckily, our government has found a better way to intervene for the most vulnerable sex workers. And, the notice signifies we now have a chance to collaborate with the DOJ to find better options to protect our safety and our privacy in the future.

What’s happening at this point is mutually beneficial and, to me, it’s exciting.

Alison Stevens, Ph.D., is an author, consultant, and former executive director at Men Just Wanna Have Fun (MCKWH), an organization that is committed to ending violence against men and boys through creative non-violent communication. She is the author of the book, “Beyond Intimidation” and a speaker, trainer, and advocate for a more confident and empowered male.

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