New Paper Explains How FOSTA Devastated Male Sex Workers

I call your attention to a new article: David Eichert (a JD/PhD student), “‘It Ruined My Life’: FOSTA, Male Escorts, and the Construction of Sexual Victimhood in American Politics,” 26 Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law 201 (Winter 2019). The article isn’t yet available on the journal’s website. I got my copy from Westlaw. [UPDATE: It’s now online!]

I know it’s a cliché to say “read the whole thing,” but I highlighted about 50% of the article’s text as interesting or important, so my summary cannot do it justice. The article recounts the problems with FOSTA, the regulation of sex work, and gender politics. Regular blog readers will be familiar with the basics of these issues. However, if you’re relatively new to the field, the article provides an excellent single resource to bring you up to speed on the topic. It also has copious citations for further investigation.

In this post, I’ll just highlight some of the more novel points from the article. A reminder that you should read the whole thing!

The article presents the findings from the author’s interviews with over two dozen male sex workers in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the author candidly admits, his method for recruiting interviewees (principally through online outreach) skewed the interview pool towards wealthier and more educated sex workers. This skew means that, if anything, the average experience for male sex workers is likely worse than the findings he identified.

Here are some of the most noteworthy points from the article:


  • “FOSTA indeed harms male sex workers, affecting every part of their daily lives and causing them significant psychological and financial suffering.”
  • “the rhetoric of lawmakers ignored the existence and needs of male sex workers”
  • “FOSTA’s man achievement has been to simply drive online sex advertisements off of U.S. servers”
  • “Male sex workers face many of the same risks as female sex workers but often lack the same support networks that some female sex workers have.”

Rhetorical Analysis

The article analyzed the rhetorical references in the House debate about FOSTA, which exposes how males were largely discounted in the process:

Victim’s Gender Perpetrator’s Gender
Adult Man: 5 Male: 18
Adult Woman: 28 Female: 1
Boys: 8
Girls: 30
Genderless children: 109

The equivalent stats for the Senate debates:

Victim’s Gender Perpetrator’s Gender
Adult Man: 7 Male: 7
Adult Woman: 33 Female: 0
Boys: 3
Girls: 46
Genderless children: 66

FOSTA’s Impact on Foreign Services

The article discusses the website Rentmen, which apparently has filled Backpage’s void for gay commercial sex. Rentmen is based in the Netherlands and not covered directly by FOSTA. Nevertheless, Rentmen made the following changes to their US site post-FOSTA:

  • It added an anti-trafficking information section.
  • It rebranded escorts as “pornstar performers.”
  • It banned sex workers from advertising their rates. This increased the time workers spent answering questions from prospective clients. Pricing opacity also led some workers to reduce their rates.

Male Sex Workers as “Victims”

“Unprompted by me, many sex workers were adamant in insisting that no one had forced them into their profession, listing off the many financial and personal benefits that encouraged them to become escorts. Similarly, many participants emphasized that the work they do is essentially ‘victimless’ and often ends up helping clients….Four participants had advanced university degrees (MA, JD, MD, PhD) and chose to engage in sex work because they enjoyed the freedom and lifestyle that it offered.”

FOSTA’s Devastating Effects

“FOSTA resulted in significant psychological and financial harm to the men who participated in my study. [Also,] despite the very real harms that male sex workers faced following the passage of FOSTA, these effects were somewhat mitigated by the continued existence of Rentmen and other advertising platforms based outside the United States.”

The article recaps, in tragic detail, many ways that FOSTA shrunk the Internet, often causing collateral censorship beyond FOSTA’s intended scope. The article is filled with too many great details to summarize. These overreactions exacerbated the damage. For example, after the shuttering of many advertising platforms in response to FOSTA, “For many participants the most significant consequence of FOSTA was loss of contact with regular clients, especially in cases where regular contacts had not shared an alternative contact method…before websites were taken down.” Also, “very few participants reported feeling unsafe with a client they met online” due to the screening benefits—which has been put in peril post-FOSTA. As one participant said, “If they wanted to make our lives worse, they succeeded.” The article pointedly concludes: “It is absolutely vital that sex workers have unfettered access to the many Internet-based tools which keep them safe.”

The article provides yet another data point showing how FOSTA almost certainly harmed many communities without clear countervailing benefits. I support Rep. Khanna’s bill to study FOSTA’s effects.

More SESTA/FOSTA-Related Posts:

* FOSTA Constitutional Challenge Revived–Woodhull Freedom Foundation v. US
New Civil FOSTA Lawsuits Push Expansive Legal Theories Against Unexpected Defendants (Guest Blog Post)
Section 230 Helps Salesforce Defeat Sex Trafficking Lawsuit–Doe v. Salesforce
Latest Linkwrap on FOSTA’s Aftermath
Section 230 Doesn’t End Lawsuit Claiming Facebook Facilitated Sex Trafficking–Doe v. Facebook
New Essay: The Complicated Story of FOSTA and Section 230
Who Benefited from FOSTA? (Spoiler: Probably No One)
FOSTA’s Political Curse
FOSTA Doesn’t Help Pro Se Litigant’s Defamation Claim Against Facebook
Constitutional Challenge to FOSTA Dismissed for Lack of Standing (Guest Blog Post)
An Update on the Constitutional Court Challenge to FOSTA–Woodhull Freedom v. US (Guest Blog Post)
Indianapolis Police Have Been “Blinded Lately Because They Shut Backpage Down”
Constitutional Challenge Against FOSTA Filed–Woodhull v. US (Guest Blog Post)
Catching Up on FOSTA Since Its Enactment (A Linkwrap)
More Aftermath from the ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’
‘Worst of Both Worlds’ FOSTA Signed Into Law, Completing Section 230’s Evisceration
Backpage Loses Another Section 230 Motion (Again Without SESTA/FOSTA)–Florida Abolitionists v. Backpage
District Court Ruling Highlights Congress’ Hastiness To Pass ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’– Doe 1 v. Backpage
More on the Unconstitutional Retroactivity of ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’ (Guest Blog Post)
Senate Passes ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’ (Linkwrap)
Why FOSTA’s Restriction on Prostitution Promotion Violates the First Amendment (Guest Blog Post)
SESTA’s Sponsors Still Don’t Understand Section 230 (As They Are About to Eviscerate It)
Can the ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’ Be Salvaged? Perhaps…and You Can Help (URGENT CALL TO ACTION)
Congress Probably Will Ruin Section 230 This Week (SESTA/FOSTA Updates)
What’s New With SESTA/FOSTA (January 17, 2018 edition)
New House Bill (Substitute FOSTA) Has More Promising Approach to Regulating Online Sex Trafficking
* My testimony at the House Energy & Commerce Committee: Balancing Section 230 and Anti-Sex Trafficking Initiatives
How SESTA Undermines Section 230’s Good Samaritan Provisions
Manager’s Amendment for SESTA Slightly Improves a Still-Terrible Bill
Another Human Trafficking Expert Raises Concerns About SESTA (Guest Blog Post)
Another SESTA Linkwrap (Week of October 30)
Recent SESTA Developments (A Linkwrap)
Section 230’s Applicability to ‘Inconsistent’ State Laws (Guest Blog Post)
An Overview of Congress’ Pending Legislation on Sex Trafficking (Guest Blog Post)
The DOJ’s Busts of MyRedbook & Rentboy Show How Backpage Might Be Prosecuted (Guest Blog Post)
Problems With SESTA’s Retroactivity Provision (Guest Blog Post)
My Senate Testimony on SESTA + SESTA Hearing Linkwrap
Debunking Some Myths About Section 230 and Sex Trafficking (Guest Blog Post)
Congress Is About To Ruin Its Online Free Speech Masterpiece (Cross-Post)
Backpage Executives Must Face Money Laundering Charges Despite Section 230–People v. Ferrer
How Section 230 Helps Sex Trafficking Victims (and SESTA Would Hurt Them) (guest blog post)
Sen. Portman Says SESTA Doesn’t Affect the Good Samaritan Defense. He’s Wrong
Senate’s “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017”–and Section 230’s Imminent Evisceration
The “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” Bill Would Be Bad News for Section 230
WARNING: Draft “No Immunity for Sex Traffickers Online Act” Bill Poses Major Threat to Section 230
The Implications of Excluding State Crimes from 47 U.S.C. § 230’s Immunity