More than 300 sex workers and citizens gathered in downtown Oakland on Saturday for International Whores Day, at which sex worker rights were celebrated and the Trump administration’s anti-trafficking law, FOSTA, was protested. 

According to Jezebel, this year’s annual event was infused with a galvanizing energy aimed at spreading awareness about how FOSTA puts sex workers at greater risk of rape, kidnapping, drugging, and death. The law’s anti-trafficking component infringes on a sex worker’s ability to go online for a safer, predetermined clientele and secured meetings.  

“This is more sex workers than I’ve ever seen in one place,” said Pele, a 42-year-old dominatrix who’s been a sex worker for over two decades. “We’re out in the street and loud and proud—I’ve never seen this.” 

It wasn’t just Oakland, however, that saw massive crowds wore the requisite International Whores Day red and demanded new legislation to protect sex workers from danger—hundreds of people gathered in New York, Las Vegas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., as well.

FOSTA, otherwise known as the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act signed into law by President Trump in April, attempts to rid human traffickers of being able to easily use the internet to move and sell women and children. Unfortunately, the law also makes it much harder for sex workers to use that same tool to set up safe meetings, with identified people, in places of their choosing. 

“My personal experiences before I used the internet as a platform for sex work was getting assaulted constantly, getting kidnapped, getting raped, getting drugged,” said Charlie, a 24-year-old sex worker. Once Charlie started using the internet to manage his business, all of the above risks were “almost eliminated completely,” but are now, once more, very real. 

Pele, a mother of two young children, took her dominatrix website offline for fear of retribution under FOSTA. She is now essentially forced to return to street-based sex work, but faces serious risks for doing so, as well. “What I could not afford to do was stick my neck out when I have two kids,” she explained. 

“Before, we were fighting for decriminalization—and that would have made things better,” said Hunter Leight, a 10-year sex worker. “But now people are feeling an immediate impact to their finances. People are hungry, people have lost their screening tools. They’re coming out because they’re desperate, they’re stressed, and they’re under attack.” 

For 70-year-old Lorrett, a sex worker for over half a century now, no administration is going to take her job from her, and anything positive that came from it, either. “Sex work has yielded me many friends, yielded me a spectacularly wonderful husband who stands behind me, yielded me a sense of myself as someone who has value and worth, and ain’t no so-and-so going to take that away from me,” she said.

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