On June 2nd a group of sex workers is organizing a protest in Oakland. They outline five goals: to make the Bay Area and local media more aware of the systematic violence against sex workers, legal and otherwise; to make it clear that sex workers’ concerns are intersectional concerns; to elevate sex workers’ voices; to be visible and to celebrate; and to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of St. James Infirmary.
We have an additional goal: we want to affirm that sex workers are workers, and, like all workers, deserve self-determination.

Sex workers have faced attacks on all sides by the law. Often they work against women: in 2010, an Australian law set restrictions on women’s breast sizes in pornography. Moral handwringing in 2014 led to the restriction of an arbitrary laundry list of sex acts in pornography.  These laws are written without consulting actual sex workers about their interests: most recently, AB-1576 was introduced to the California assembly without sex workers’ input. Laws against sex work aren’t only motivated by hegemonic Christian-tinged moral interest, but also by feminists: women and women’s groups were major proponents of the “Nordic Model” of criminalizing buying sex but not selling it, but a large body of evidence says it pushes sex work underground and makes it more dangerous.


And at the U.S. federal level they’re facing another vicious attack: in April, SESTA and FOSTA passed in the Senate and House, respectively. SESTA and FOSTA shift criminal and civil liability onto websites where sex workers post, discuss, and advertise. This creates a chilling effect, where websites proactively take down or filter content that may be related to sex work.

Sex workers themselves are largely opposed to SESTA and FOSTA. Like the earlier attacks, it’s unclear if they even prevent sex work; instead, workers say they’ll be forced to take more dangerous, less visible work. Sex work existed before the internet, and it will definitely exist off of the internet, but the internet provides tools, information, solidarity, and safety. Switter, a Twitter-like website used by sex workers has been impacted. People worry how they will share “bad date lists” and peer references. Backpage’s closure makes it harder for workers to find safe clients; instead they’re moving to the street.

And sex workers are being undermined by leftists: Bernie Sanders, an open socialist and sometime-darling of the DSA, voted yes on SESTA, prompting workers to produce a video open letter.

The attacks on sex work are class warfare. By marginalizing sex workers, capital creates a vulnerable class that it can exploit for profit. By making it difficult to talk about sex work on the internet, capital keeps sex workers separated and unorganized, and reinforces that vulnerability. We don’t know what society will look like after capitalism, or how and whether sex work will fit into that, but we do know that sex workers need support now. Sex workers are workers, and all workers deserve the chance to band together and control their own work.

Visibility isn’t always safe for sex workers: by making themselves present on June 2nd, they’ll be putting themselves at risk in order to organize. Join us as we stand and march with them!

Written by DSA SF SocFem member Elizabeth Morgan.