Sex workers’ social media site forced to shut down due to laws purporting to tackle trafficking -

Sex workers’ social media site forced to shut down due to laws purporting to tackle trafficking

  • Published on
    February 14, 2022
  • Written by:
    Miriam Karmali
  • Category:
    Technology & Tools
Hero Banner

Switter, a social media site set up in 2018 by Assembly Four, an Australian collective of sex workers and technology experts, has shut down. Switter enabled sex workers to make connections, share information around safety and screen clients but the site could no longer be managed in a way that would keep the almost half a million global users safe as a result of online safety laws in Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.

Harmful “anti-trafficking” laws

Following the passage of the harmful Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act/Fight Online Sex Traffickers Act laws in the U.S. in 2018, websites such as Backpage where sex workers could safely advertise and screen clients were shut down. The Guardian reports that Switter was set up in response to this legislation that purported to be aimed at addressing sex trafficking. In reality SESTA/FOSTA is rarely used as a U.S. government report found in 2021, while causing serious harm to sex workers’ safety and livelihoods, forcing them into situations where the risk of trafficking and exploitation increases.

Assembly Four’s statement on their decision to shut down Switter said:

The recent anti-sex work and anti-LGBTQIA+ legislative changes not only in Australia, but in the UK, US and other jurisdictions have made it impossible for us to appropriately and ethically maintain compliance over 420,690+ users.

In November 2021, Freedom United made a submission to the Australian government’s consultation on Australia’s Draft Online Safety (Basic Online Safety Expectations) setting out our concerns around this legislation. We believe that online content depicting abuses of human trafficking victims should be removed and that traffickers be held accountable, however these cases are different from adult, consensual sex work and it remains unclear how the government will differentiate between actual cases of trafficking and false or misleading reports by end-users.

This distinction is essential in order to help trafficking victims and ensure sex workers can communicate with each other in order to work safely online — a crucial harm reduction strategy.

Why shutting down online spaces puts sex workers at risk

Legislation that forces platforms like Switter to shut down only harms sex workers and puts them at greater risk of trafficking. Traffickers take advantage of marginalized people, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, often by false promises of work. Making it more difficult for sex workers to survive economically only leads to further marginalization, placing them at greater risk of exploitation.

Learn more about why decriminalizing sex work in offline and online spaces is a necessary component to an effective anti-trafficking strategy. 

Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

stop icon A few things we do not tolerate: comments that promote discrimination, prejudice, racism, or xenophobia, as well as personal attacks or profanity. We screen submissions in order to create a space where the entire Freedom United community feels safe to express and exchange thoughtful opinions.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

This week

Migrant workers jailed in Qatar over demands for owed wages

Five months on from the World Cup final, migrant workers continue to report exploitative labor practices and mistreatment at the hands of Qatari authorities. Three former security guards have been jailed in Qatar for four months following their repeated requests for unpaid wages from their employer, Stark Security Services. Though lauded by FIFA as an opportunity to improve Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, workers who toiled to make the world’s

| Friday May 26, 2023

Read more