The Online Safety Bill was published on 12 May 2021 with the stated aim of cracking down on “harmful” content online. A clause has now been added to the bill to include the offence of “inciting or controlling prostitution for gain” as one of the priority offences that tech companies have to look out for – firms would then be obliged to remove any content from their platforms that could be construed as committing this offence.
This would be disastrous for sex workers as it would undoubtably lead to advertising platforms clamping down on sex workers’ advertisements.in order to avoid any chance of being prosecuted – essentially criminalising the online advertising of sex 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. Our experience shows that in any crackdown like this, migrant and women of colour are particularly targeted.
Research shows that online advertising has enabled sex workers to work more safely and independently from exploitative bosses, to screen clients and have more control over our working conditions. Preventing sex workers from advertising will increase violence and the risk of attack. Similar legislation (SESTA/FOSTA) was passed into law by Trump in the US in 2018 resulting in an increase in poverty, insecure housing, suicide, murder, isolation, and the deterioration of physical and mental health for sex workers.