On the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Mayor Latoya Cantrell issued a statement saying that the “stigma and shame” of sex work “put lives at risk.”
According to research published by the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project, 46 percent of sex workers experience violence in their line of work. Eighty percent report being beaten or threatened. The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was established to bring awareness of this violence.
The statement from Mayor Cantrell comes at a particularly difficult time for sex workers. Earlier this year, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) were passed. The two were intended to work together to combat sex trafficking by holding website and digital platform owners responsible if content posted on their website promotes consensual sex work or prostitution. As a result, Craigslist closed their “personals” section, Backpage.com shut down, Tumblr banned any adult content from its platform, and Facebook recently announced it will do the same.
The problem with this is that in many cases, people who participate in sex work say that the internet made sex work safer. Workers could screen clients, arrange meetings in safer locations, and make safety plans in case things got out of hand. As more websites remove their safe places online, they are left more vulnerable. Most sex workers will not stop their work due to SESTA and FOSTA. They will continue – but be more vulnerable.
In New Orleans, sex workers have faced other challenges as well. In January, raids by the Alcohol & Tobacco Commission shut down strip clubs throughout the French Quarter, putting staff and dancers out of a job. The raids drew national attention, and though some clubs have reopened, the dancers remain paranoid. One dancer told The Cut that ATC agents “were calling out girls’ real names in front of customers, and they were making non-sex-worker-friendly jokes.” This raised paranoia among the dancers and put them at risk for stalking and other consequences. As a result, many dancers now travel between clubs to work, or even work outside of town.
In her statement today, Mayor Cantrell promised stronger protections saying, “The City of New Orleans will work to secure and uphold the human rights of all individuals, especially those most at risk of abuse and neglect. All of our residents matter and deserve equal protection under the law.”
Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.