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Subscribe on Apple PodcastsStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. This is where Blunt earns her living.

The origins of FOSTA-SESTA

This also happens to be the place where Blunt and Wolf recently finished a study about sex workers — funded by themselves, along with a bit of help, monetary and moral, from their clients including one whose kink was to serve as a human footstool as Blunt and Wolf conducted their research. Passed inFOSTA-SESTA has transformed the lives of sex workers across the country, and intensified a long-running debate over how we deal with an underground economy that runs the gamut from voluntary sex work aka prostitution to involuntary sex trafficking.

Over the past 20 or so years, that economy has increasingly migrated online.

Its personals section, and later its erotic services section, quickly became a kind of bulletin board where sex workers could connect with clients. That was quickly followed by another online behemoth — Back. For a of sex workers, these websites were a chance to move negotiations that once happened on the street into the digital space.

It just gives you more space to make a decision before getting in a car. Some websites even offered tools to help sex workers vet potential clients — including shared blacklists for dangerous clients.

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There were other perks, too: It allowed some sex workers to strike out on their own, instead of having to work with exploitative pimps or agencies; and sex workers could connect with one another, allowing them to build online communities and begin articulating some of their shared interests and problems. The classifieds sections were soon populated by sex traffickers, who for years openly posted for women and children being held against their will.

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Melanie Thompson24, was one of those children. She works now as the youth outreach coordinator at the Coalition Against Trafficking in Womenbut before that she spent many years in the sex trade, after being kidnapped and exploited at the age of Thompson has vivid memories of sitting next to her exploiter as he typed up about her to post on Back.

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They [would] put me up against the wall. Some of them would smack me with whatever weapon they had. They had a way of making you feel extremely disposable.

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Because they knew that with a click of a button, they could easily find another girl whose ad just went to the top of that list in less than five minutes. Over the years, Back became notorious for its role trafficking young women and children — a of whom were later found to have been raped, abused, and even murdered.

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As the horror stories grew, so did the public outrage. When nothing changed, Back was hit with dozens of lawsuits filed by victims of trafficking.

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But again and again, the lawsuits failed in the courts — thanks largely to a part of the Communications Decency Act called Sectiona seminal piece of internet legislation that shields web publishers from being legally liable for what users post on their websites. Back was the best-known website to fall. A slew of other websites dedicated to adult services followed, but the laws also affected dating apps and sites including Craigslist personalsalong with discussion forums and social media sites.

In the two years since, sex work advocacy groups have reported a spike in the of missing and dead sex workers across the country.

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The mission was pretty simple, but the methodology was anything but. When you elide differences like that, you miss out on a ton of data, she said. They did that with a survey that contained 80 questions — some multiple choice, some open-ended — to give respondents a chance to explain their answers.

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They distributed the surveys online, and got back. Yes, it was pushing sex workers from online into the streets — and sometimes into the arms of pimps.

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For years, studies have connected sex work with poor health. But researchers have always assumed that the health problems — especially issues with mental health or trauma — stemmed from the sex work itself. Though some websites offering adult services still exist, many require fees in order to place .

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As a result, a of sex workers have been forced to return to street prostitution, work with agencies or pimps, or try and make up the difference with other jobs. And I do recognize that that puts a strain on their workforce or their employment opportunities.

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I think this is just another way for people to try to push the pro-prostitution agenda by saying that disabled people, their only option is prostitution. And again, I recognize that they may have a harder time finding work, but this is not the only option.

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Though a new bill is under consideration that would require the National Institutes of Health to conduct a study on just that. Despite that lack of research — and continued backlash from sex workers and free-speech advocates — a bipartisan group of senators is pushing forward a new bill that doubles down on the spirit of FOSTA-SESTA. Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a weakened version of the bill that hands the power of the commission over instead to state lawmakers.

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The damage done Melanie Thompson24, was one of those children. Subscribe to The Pulse Stories about the people and places at the heart of health and science. Ways to Listen.

Studying the fallout In the two years since, sex work advocacy groups have reported a spike in the of missing and dead sex workers across the country. But Blunt said there were also some unexpected findings.

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