Largest sex worker conference in the USA is cancelled due to threat from FOSTA-SESTA

North America & Caribbean Regional Correspondent
Source (institute/publication)

Sex worker organisations have been negatively impacted since FOSTA-SESTA was passed in April, with Desiree Alliance announcing it has cancelled its 2019 conference in light of the risks the law has created for sex workers. The statement on their website reads:

“It is with great sadness and much consideration that Desiree Alliance announces the cancellation of our July 2019 conference Transcending Borders: Immigration, Migration, and Sex Work. 

Due to FOSTA/SESTA enactments, our leadership made the decision that we cannot put our organization and our attendees at risk. We hope you understand our grave concerns and continue to resist every law that exists to harm sex workers!  Keep fighting!” 

Co-hosted with SWOP Behind Bars and the TransLatin@ Coalition, the 7th annual Desiree Alliance conference was scheduled to be held July 2019 in Las Vegas. Under current political conditions in the USA, the chosen theme for the conference – “Transcending Boundaries: Immigration, Migration, and Sex Work” – had organisers especially worried about the safety of migrant worker attendees.

Cris Sardina, Director of Desiree Alliance, said she is disappointed the conference won't go ahead, but "hopes that people will realize that sex workers are in a state of emergency".

Other advocates have similar fears about their efforts being further targeted by the new law. SWOP Sacramento made the decision to temporarily suspend direct outreach in the wake of FOSTA-SESTA and SB124 (a proposed California bill that would further attack sex workers’ rights to support services): “The group will be shuttering its safe-house, ceasing distribution of both condoms and “bad client” lists, discontinuing classes around sex worker safety, and dramatically reducing the availability of its hotline.” 

Sex workers have been outspoken about the impacts the FOSTA-SESTA legislation. Kristen DiAngelo, SWOP Sacramento, said: “When you take away our jobs, which laws like SESTA do, you take away our ability to organize and be activists. How can anyone be a volunteer to help others if they can’t even support themselves?” Melissa Broudo, co-director of the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights Institute, said: “There is increased fear around what we as activists and advocates can post or share on social media because of the self-censoring of websites and increased (whether real or perceived) law enforcement activity around the sex industry.”

Desiree Alliance still plans to hold their conference in the future but is doing safety planning in the meantime. Due to the new internet laws, part of this planning includes new social media strategies that aim to keep the organisation safe from accusations of pandering or trafficking. Their activism is also continuing outside of the conference. Desiree Alliance has organised an upcoming meeting with sex worker leaders across the US and advocate groups including the ACLU to work on fighting FOSTA-SESTA.

Sardina told us: “Desiree Alliance will continue to resist the hyper-criminalization that the government has imbibed upon its citizens in the US. We look towards ways that can secure the safety of sex workers and continue to fight for the full decriminalization of all consensual sex work.”