In Justice Today: Anti-Online Trafficking Bills Advance in Congress, Despite Opposition from Survivors Themselves

SESTA, the Senate bill, is currently supported by a seemingly disparate coalition: anti-sex work groups, some anti-trafficking services, religious right groups, and some women’s rights groups. Though they originally opposed it on the grounds that it would compromise free speech online, most major tech companies now back SESTA. The bill has also won a personal endorsement from Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Should FOSTA and SESTA become law, anyone engaged in the sex trade — whether through choice, circumstance, or coercion — risks losing access to websites like Backpage and others that connect them to work. Advocates say this would be a direct attack on sex workers’ ability to continue doing sex work on their own terms, and risk making people in the sex trades more vulnerable to trafficking.

Anti-Online Trafficking Bills Advance in Congress, Despite Opposition from Survivors Themselves” by Melissa Gira Grant for In Justice Today

In Justice Today: Proposed Federal Trafficking Legislation Has Surprising Opponents: Advocates Who Work With Trafficking Victims

The legislation is meant to protect victims of sex trafficking, but many advocates who work directly with people who have been trafficked oppose both bills. “They think that shutting down any online platform is going to miraculously end human trafficking,” Jessica Peñaranda, director of strategic initiatives at the Sex Workers’ Project, told In Justice Today. “They think it’s an easy way to do this.” But real solutions aren’t so easy, she says.

The position she and other advocates are voicing against SESTA and FOSTA is one that tends to get drowned out. Typically, high-profile anti-trafficking lobbying groups that lead the charge for federal legislation, such as World Without Exploitation (led by former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Lauren Hersh), or Christian right groups like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (formerly known as Morality in Media), oppose not only sex trafficking but sex work itself.

Proposed Federal Trafficking Legislation Has Surprising Opponents: Advocates Who Work With Trafficking Victims” by Melissa Gira Grant for In Justice Today

The Guardian: ‘Secrets aren’t really a thing that I do’


On 28 November, she tweeted: “That thing where you log in to the internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist. That thing sucks.” And then: “James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.”

Then she logged off.

In what may have felt like Stoya’s silence, reporters, critics and fans wondered for her: what did this mean, this public rape story told in 55 words, involving two of the world’s most high-profile porn performers, who were once in a very public relationship with each other? (James Deen posted some tweets of his own, denying Stoya’s story. A request for comment from Deen was not returned by the time of publication.)

That silence was filled almost immediately by other porn performers, some with allegations similar to Stoya’s, and about the same man, and saying that, despite what the reporters and critics and fans might have been wondering, yes, no matter what you see on screen, a porn performer has a right to her boundaries, on-set and off – and that yes, they believed her. That chorus of voices that followed Stoya’s shook the porn industry. They reverberated, and now the public is hearing, perhaps as loudly as ever, about the particular structural problems the porn industry contends with, and the persistent and pernicious idea that sex workers are by definition unrapeable. So what change has Stoya’s intervention made – and what remains?

‘Secrets aren’t really a thing that I do,’” by Melissa Gira Grant for The Guardian

RH Reality Check: How Sex Workers’ Rights Made the Mainstream

Rentboy was a website where men sought sex with men, and as such, media and advocacy groups who don’t typically bring a political analysis to sex work responded to the raid primarily as an anti-gay attack, while also calling for an end to the policing of sex workers. Some American LGBTQ organizations in particular have rallied around the political nature of the raid—in a way women’s rights groups in the United States, when women sex workers are targeted in similar raids, have not.

In fact, it might be the relative silence of women’s rights groups on the Rentboy raid that has provided space for sex workers’ rights to become the main focus of the story.

How Sex Workers’ Rights Made the Mainstream, by Melissa Gira Grant for RH Reality Check

VICE: How the Feds Took Down

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents were there with the Rentboy defendants Tuesday afternoon at federal court in Brooklyn. The agents sat shoulder to shoulder, filling two front benches. They outnumbered the attorneys. They wore T-shirts and jeans, badges on their hips, looking relaxed and confident against the murmur of suits and ties. One agent stood and turned to us, the press and families and advocates in the back benches, and we could read the slogan on his shirt: “Vindicated—Justice Will Be Done.”

“You sure you brought enough guys?” one of the defense attorneys spoke into the air.

How the Feds Took Down, by Melissa Gira Grant for VICE

On The Work of Sex Work

A little over eighteen months ago, I published a book entitled Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. In it, I relate the cultural fantasies we hold about sex work and who performs it. I call these collectively, the prostitute imaginary. I identify those people who most gain from these fantasies, and how they put them to work for themselves to marginalize, contain, and discipline sex workers’ livelihoods, bodies, and self-representations. In particular, I nod back to theorists of sex work like Jill Nagle and Gail Pheterson, who explained in the 1990’s how the character of “the prostitute” as narrated by outsiders is used to alienate any woman engaged in sex work from the production of her own image.

I have done, in these months, dozens of interviews in print, radio, television, and for online publication. I have written thousands of words in the service of advancing these ideas (that is, the sale of my own). My work has received international critical attention; I have given invited talks on the subject in half a dozen countries. I have used my platform to debate politicians and confront NGO’s, used my journalism to expose human rights violations, and I bring a deep and interdisciplinary knowledge of the current research to my criticism. I am one of the most recognized and original thinkers on the subject. On this, there is little dispute. I have also encountered – mostly from other journalists – all manner of presumptions about my own body, what it has done, and what it is capable of. I have had to defend my ability to do this work as I have carried it off masterfully.

Since I first published and was paid for a piece of writing on sex work more than ten years ago, I have performed these two jobs: the work of writing, and the work of carving out a space for that writing (and its sale). I have watched as, at least once each year, a news cycle winds up concerning sex work, for a time attaching a more recognizable name to an issue few value: the DC Madam, Eliot Spitzer, Craigslist, Backpage, the Secret Service, Nicholas Kristof and Somaly Mam, Amnesty International. Though I do this work daily, in these moments of media flash I am introduced to writers, journalists, and producers who are have only just arrived on the topic, and who I will never hear from again. I understand the paucity of newsroom resources these days – the disappearing of newsrooms themselves – and that any good reporter is going to sniff out those who have more to offer her than her colleagues close at hand, to turn and churn out copy before she is on to the next. I am sympathetic, though these days, I am unmoved.

I turn down more of these requests than I accept; the ratio is likely 5 to 1 in favor of no, a decision necessary to keep my time to myself to pursue my other research and writing interests. Perhaps my apparent success makes other writers and reporters think I have ample time to direct them to books (buy my own), related texts (bibliography appears in my own), subjects to interview (use the internet). Worse, sometimes they think I owe it to them. They are incorrect.

To the writer at the well-known web explainer outlet who asked me to offer critique of his article, after I declined to be interviewed, who told me “no one else” at his website had an interest in sex work, I would direct you to your own archives, which contain – among other things on the subject – an interview I gave several months ago.

To the young feminist making the Sunday show rounds, who emailed me less than twelve hours before her next appearance seeking to “pick my brain,” I didn’t reply to you, intentionally. If you didn’t take it on yourself to read the stories I had sent you earlier in the week, I am not going to make time for you by phone.

To the network television producer who wanted me to introduce her to sex workers from Craigslist so she could tell their stories, and who told me “It’s not work I’m asking you to do, it’s an introduction, and a way to shed light on an important and under-reported issue,” I know it is important and under-reported; that’s why I do my job. The time has come for you to do yours.

Not only from these three incidents, but from what they say about this moment in this media economy: I am on my own kind of strike from doing anyone else’s work on sex work. I will not answer your requests. I will not give you interviews. I will not be a token on your program. I will not direct you to resources. I will not introduce you to subjects. I will not do work you are paid to do. I will not do work which has value to those who employ you. I will not do work which has value to those who place advertisements around your work. I will not, and if you ask me to more than once, I will direct you to the following, now published for you to refer to in the future and to share with your colleagues, too:

To acquire my time from my own writing, research, and public speaking, my consulting fees on the subject of sex work begin at $1000.

Best of luck in this business,

Previously: Dear Producer
Follow-up: Reactions to My Strike Notice

The Nation:  Amnesty International Is Finally on the Right Side of the Sex Work Struggle

Amnesty’s announcement refers to sex workers as “one of the most marginalized groups in the world,” but today it is especially worth underscoring the resistance of sex workers. Sex workers have organized against police violence, HIV/AIDS, and punitive laws for decades—and did so while facing exclusion from feminist and human rights organizations.

Amnesty International Is Finally on the Right Side of the Sex Work Struggle,” by Melissa Gira Grant for The Nation

The Nation: Amnesty International’s Long-Due Support for Sex Workers Rights

This pressing on and clamoring for laws that put sex workers at risk might seem unique, but it recalls anti-abortion groups who express their opposition to abortion by deliberately chipping away at abortion access. Though these campaigns say they are concerned with rights and safety, the end game looks the same: create so much danger around something that you condemn in the hopes it will just go away.

Amnesty International’s Long-Due Support for Sex Workers Rights,” by Melissa Gira Grant for The Nation

VICE: Young, Black, Trans, Arrested: How Women Like Meagan Taylor Are Made Invisible

Meagan Taylor has bright red hair. She takes cute selfies. She went to Iowa two weeks ago, a trip from her home in Illinois cut short with an arrest. Her name became a hashtag. She is black and transgender and young, and in a month that has seen at least five black women die in American jails, last Wednesday, Meagan Taylor left her cell alive.

Young, Black, Trans, Arrested: How Women Like Meagan Taylor Are Made Invisible,” by Melissa Gira Grant for VICE