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Democrats introduce bill to study impact of sex trafficking law

A group of Democrats, including 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), on Tuesday introduced a bill to study the effects of a recent sex trafficking law on the health and safety of sex workers in the U.S.

The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, which calls for the government to conduct a wide-ranging study into the experiences of sex workers, emerges in response to evidence that a sex trafficking bill signed into law last year has dismantled vital online ecosystems for people engaged in consensual and often life-sustaining work in the sex industry.

{mosads}The controversial bill, dubbed SESTA-FOSTA, made it easier to target websites with legal action for enabling sex trafficking online. But it also effectively cut off services that allowed sex workers to communicate and organize online.

“As lawmakers, we are responsible for examining unintended consequences of all legislation, and that includes any impact SESTA-FOSTA may have had on the ability of sex workers to protect themselves from physical or financial abuse,” Warren, who has faced criticism over some of her previous positions on sex work, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The legislation was introduced by Warren, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley; Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who helped write the original statute that SESTA-FOSTA diluted. 

Warren is the only co-sponsor who voted for SESTA-FOSTA last year. Khanna, Lee and Wyden all voted “no” on the legislation over a variety of concerns about whether it would harm free speech online and result in discrimination against sex workers.

Warren is co-introducing the bill as she continues to face scrutiny from sex workers over a number of issues, including her reluctance to call for decriminalizing sex work and a piece of legislation she co-sponsored in 2017 that critics say would enable banks to discriminate against sex workers.  

The SAFE SEX Workers Study Act would ask the Department of Health and Human Services, in conjunction with other agencies, to conduct the first national study on the “health and safety of sex workers.” The study would scrutinize whether SESTA-FOSTA has resulted in discrimination against vulnerable populations including members of the LGBTQ community and racial minorities. 

“This bill examines the negative and unproductive legislation that categorically disenfranchised people who have been marginalized for far too long,” Tamika L Spellman, vice president at advocacy group Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, said in a statement. “We stand in full support of this proposed legislation as it will study the needs of Sex Workers impacted by the implementation of SESTA/FOSTA nationwide.” 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for president, is also an original co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate. 

Tags Barbara Lee Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Ro Khanna Ron Wyden

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