Petition Letter on The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers December 17, 2018
To: Consul General Kurt W. Tong
U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau 26 Garden Road, Central Hong Kong
Dear Mr. Tong,
Re: Petition to repeal FOSTA-SESTA – laws that produce rather than save victims
Inaugurated in 2003 as a memorial for victims of the “Green River Killer” in Seattle, Washington, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (IDEVASW) falls on the 17th of December every year and serves as a sobering reminder of the prejudice, discrimination and persecution sex workers around the world continue to suffer.
This year, honouring IDEVASW gains extra urgency as the President of the U.S.A. signed into law on April 11 the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), two bills that ostensibly combat sex trafficking but in practice threatens the safety, health and livelihood of consenting sex workers in the US and worldwide.
While FOSTA makes it a federal crime in the U.S. to own, manage or operate an internet service with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person, SESTA introduces civil and criminal liability on internet service providers for user content that violates federal anti-trafficking and sex work laws in the U.S.
Since Congress passed FOSTA-SESTA on March 21, online platforms used by sex workers for advertising, screening clients and exchanging crucial information (e.g. on clients, safe sex practices, testing services, etc.) have faced seizure (e.g. Backpage), closed down relevant sections (e.g. Craigslist), or censored/banned content and accounts relating to sex work (e.g. Google, Microsoft, Reddit). As these US-based companies often serve an international community, sex workers both inside and outside of the U.S. – including in Hong Kong where sex work is not illegal – have been stripped of access to one of the safest channels for securing business, negotiating the terms of a transaction, as well as sharing safety-related information.
Data shows that FOSTA-SESTA has immediately exposed sex workers to heightened risks of violence and exploitation. According to a survey of 262 sex workers conducted by advocacy group COYOTE-RI, 60% of respondents have taken on less safe clients to make ends meet since the bills passed; 65% said someone had tried to threaten, exploit, or get freebies from them recently; and screening practices (i.e. steps taken to verify the identity or reputation of a client) dropped by 28%. Many have been forced to find clients face-to-face, at locations that are not desirable for safety. Others were approached by guerilla pimps trying to coerce them into doing high-risk work.
As an alliance of Hong Kong-based human rights organisations, we believe that sex work between consenting adults is a dignified form of labor and should NOT be conflated with trafficking. We are therefore deeply concerned by the negative and far-reaching impact of FOSTA-SESTA on the fundamental rights, health and well-being of the international sex worker community. Within months, FOSTA-SESTA has proven not to be an anti-trafficking measure, but an inhumane crackdown on sex workers worldwide, placing them at a much more vulnerable and disadvantaged position than before.
We hereby call for an immediate repeal of FOSTA-SESTA to prevent further harm done to sex workers around the world, and urge the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau to relay our concerns to the U.S. Government. While human trafficking is a real problem, when formulating anti-trafficking laws and policies, all governments and legislatures must:
1. Avoid the conflation of consenting sex workers with trafficking victims;
2. Collect their views and address their concerns through a fair and transparent consultation process;
3. Work to strengthen mutual support networks among sex workers rather than undermine them and drive sex workers further underground; and
4. Always abide by the principle of safeguarding the rights and well-being of the sex worker community.
Thank you for your attention.
Action For Reach Out
League of Social Democrats, LSD
Sex and Gender Concern Group, CUHK
The Association for the Advancement of Feminism Hong Kong Chef Union
 See Section 3(A), FOSTA (H.R. 1865): http://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1865/text
 See Sections 3 and 4, SESTA (S. 1693): https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1693/text
 Coyote Rhode Island Impact Survey Results (2018) analyzed by SWOP Seattle.