Thank you for writing to your MPs to call for the removal of Clause 16 (Schedule 7 – Priority Offences) of the Online Safety Bill. This clause is a dangerous attempt to criminalise sex workers’ online advertising. Our full briefing is here.
Hundreds of letters have been sent, reaching 311 MPs – thank you to those who forwarded the responses to us.
Many MPs responded saying that they are aware of our campaign and concerns. A few MPs have voiced their opposition to Clause 16 vowing to push for its removal.
But both the government and the opposition are backing the inclusion of Clause 16 and we need to counter this misinformation.
►The Shadow Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Alex Davies Jones MP, specifically welcomed Clause 16 saying that ‘Labour was pleased to see new additions to the most recent iteration, including criminal content relating to…inciting or controlling prostitution for gain’.
►The government spokesperson Chris Philip MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Tech and the Digital Economy) argued for Clause 16 to be retained as a priority offence as it targeted ‘often identifiable symptoms of modern slavery’, with sexual exploitation being ‘often the manifestation of modern slavery’.
The claim that Clause 16 is needed to target modern slavery is very dangerous. Associating sex work with trafficking and using this to justify a crackdown on sex workers’ online adverts is how the US FOSTA/SESTA laws went through. Sex workers in the US reported that the loss of their online presence made them more susceptible to labour exploitation and trafficking. Law enforcement said that it is now more difficult to locate traffickers since advertising websites have been shut down.
We must also oppose claims by some MPs that Clause 16 poses no real danger to sex workers because it will only target those who are “controlling” others, that is coercing others and profiteering from their work. These claims have been made by Chris Philip MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Tech and the Digital Economy who is on the Online Safety Bill Commons General Committee.
Offences of “controlling” and “causing or inciting prostitution for gain” are used routinely in the criminal courts against sex workers working together where there is no force or coercion. The very definition of controlling DOES NOT require force and coercion to be proved (see R v Massey). What guarantee is there that “controlling” won’t be defined in the same way in the implementation of Clause 16? We have worked with hundreds of sex workers fighting these very offences. For example, a sex worker who helped others place adverts online (because she had better English skills than them) has been held under investigation for over a year for trafficking/modern slavery offences. She is one of many targeted in this way.
If your MP has replied to your initial letter and used any of the issues highlighted above as justification for the retention of Clause 16 of Schedule 7, we would suggest responding to them highlighting the following:
- Preventing sex workers from advertising will increase violence. Research shows that internet platforms have allowed more sex workers to work inside where it is safer than on the streets, and also to work independently of managers or agencies who may be exploitative.
- It is not true that Clause 16 poses no danger to sex workers and will only be used against traffickers or those who are coercing others and profiteering from their work. Controlling prostitution for gain is interpreted very widely in the criminal courts. Some women in the ECP have been prosecuted under this offence just for helping a friend build a website or place an advert.
- It is not true that Clause 16 is needed to fight trafficking and modern slavery. A similar justification was used for the US SESTA/FOSTA laws but evidence showed that these laws did not reduce trafficking or other violence, and increased harm towards sex workers. Law enforcement agencies said that it is now more difficult for them to locate traffickers.
We are still collating statements from sex workers about the impact on you if online advertising is banned. Please drop us a DM on Instagram or Twitter, or email us at email@example.com. All will be kept anonymous.