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Four years of FOSTA: The survey

24 Oct 2022 15:10:09

About the survey
In July 2022, COYOTE worked with a small focus group of sex workers and sex trafficking
survivors to develop a survey of sex workers and sex trafficking survivors to assess the effects
of four years of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, commonly known as FOSTA or
FOSTA/SESTA. FOSTA modified the Communications Decency Act to allow for prosecution of
website owners whose websites contained user generated content that facilitates or aids
prostitution, resulting in an immediate widespread loss of advertising and screening resources.

This survey is meant as an updated follow up to the survey that we did immediately after
FOSTA went into effect in 2018. The questions were beta tested on a small sample before
being distributed. The survey opened on July 11, 2022 and closed on August 21, 2022.
COYOTE RI solicited survey participants by posting on social media and emailing and tweeting
escorts who advertise online. In the last few days, participants from groups who were under-
represented among survey participants (male workers) were offered $10 to complete the
survey. Participants were limited to those who had worked before and after FOSTA’s
enactment, as verified by a qualifying question. 332 people started the survey and 227
completed it. All responses of all qualified participants are included. Survey questions focused
on three areas: FOSTA’s effect on violence, FOSTA’s effect on vulnerability, and FOSTA’s
effects on public safety more broadly.

Why the survey?
We believe that the people most impacted by FOSTA have the most insight into its impacts. As
a criminalized population, our voices have always been hidden in the shadows. Legislators do
not consult us when they make laws that dramatically change our working conditions, and most
of us do not choose to risk arrest by reaching out to them, instead choosing to share our
experiences and insights anonymously online. One of the primary effects of FOSTA has been to
shut down our online speech and make us even more afraid to speak up publicly. This survey is
intended to bring the voices of our community, which sociologists call a “hidden population,” to
our broader community and to the legislative and judicial communities which are empowered to
create the safety and fairness of our work conditions by making and changing laws.

Sex trafficking: a note about language
“Sex trafficking” is a phrase with so many different legal and popular definitions that it has
become devoid of any specific meaning. In this report we use the federal definition of sex
trafficking: force, fraud, coercion, or minors. Under federal law, minors in the sex industry are
victims of sex trafficking even if they are working on their own with no trafficker. For this survey
we split the two groups up – victims of force, fraud, or coercion, and those who entered the
industry as minors. There is some overlap between the two groups.

It’s important to note that the majority of these people would not call themselves sex trafficking
survivors and many would be offended by being called sex trafficking survivors. However, when
we discuss federal laws like FOSTA in relation to sex trafficking survivors, these are the people
we are talking about. Throughout this report, we have attempted to respect people’s rights to
self-definition by using the terms “survivors of force, fraud, or coercion within the industry” or
“those who entered the industry as minors,” while also being clear that these are the “sex
trafficking victims” that FOSTA was supposed to help.

Broadly speaking, FOSTA increased force, fraud, and coercion against sex workers from other
actors within the sex trade, and violence from clients and perpetrators posing as clients. At the
same time, FOSTA created more vulnerability to violence by reducing income, increasing
homelessness, decreasing peer support, and decreasing access to safety information. FOSTA
negatively impacted public safety by pushing advertising sites overseas where police are less
able to subpoena information from them and by making sex workers and sex trafficking
survivors much less likely to report serious crimes, like assault or child pornography, to police.
In other words, the real world effects of FOSTA are completely contrary to its stated intent.

The table below gives responses for all participants, as well as for several subgroups: survivors
of force, fraud, or coercion, those who entered the industry as minors, people with disabilities,
men, and people of color. Because some participants only completed part of the survey or
skipped questions, the number of participants in each group is included for each section of the


Four years of FOSTA: The survey