Canadian sex worker says new U.S. trafficking laws are a risk to her safety

Two new anti-sex trafficking laws in the U.S. are having an unintended impact on Canadian sex workers, and raising fears for their safety.

Under the new laws, websites will be held accountable for any sex trafficking that is facilitated on their pages, even through advertisements. They coincide with the seizure of popular classifieds site Backpage, which was shut down by the FBI earlier this month after its CEO pleaded guilty to several charges, including facilitating prostitution.

Sections of the site were used to advertise consensual sex work, but officials say they were also being used for trafficking.

Jelena Vermillion, an Ontario-based sex worker, says her livelihood has suffered since the closure. She told The Current’s guest host Laura Lynch that 90 per cent of her income came from Backpage. The site also allowed her to screen her clients.

“It gives us the ability and autonomy to screen our clients,” she said. “It gives us a filter between meeting a client and deciding whether that’s safe for us.”

The U.S. Senate voted to pass the two bills last month: the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA), and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). In response, the classified website Craigslist shut down the personals section of its U.S. site.

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