The endless digital hurdles of legal sex work in Australia – Break-fest #5

Pretty Neat and Marketing joined forces to hear from the founders of Switter at Break-fest #5, exploring the global impacts of US policy changes and remaining stigma around the sex work industry.

On Friday 25 October, marketers, creatives, business owners and individuals with a curious inclination met at Pretty Neat in Melbourne for Break-fest #5 – the first event in the series delivered in partnership with Marketing.

Munching on fresh fruit with coffee mugs in hand, Pretty Neat managing director Warren Davies and I sat down to speak with the cofounders of Assembly Four – a technology platform that supports sex workers around the globe – Eliza Sorensen and Lola Hunt.

Under the Assembly Four umbrella is Switter, a sex worker-friendly social media platform that earned international headlines in 2018. Amid a Trump administration policy crackdown involving two new laws on sex work facilitated through digital services – the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) – Switter launched to offer members of the industry a safe online environment to ply their services.

The Assembly Four team had previously been working on a CRM for sex workers, but the devastation by FOSTA and SESTA meant many of their peers had been left with few options outside of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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At Break-fest #5, Sorensen and Hunt spoke about the challenges of running digital platforms focused on sex work; even in Australia, where sex work is legal and regulated, essential business services such as banks seldom get involved with the industry. 

Many of the digital services we often take for granted – Paypal or Stripe, for example – are based in the US, meaning even their global terms of service don’t support legal sex work.

“Even in Australia, sex workers were left out of the equation in the Anti-Discrimination Act, as a result, there’s service after service that we can’t use,” explains Hunt. “Hotels will kick us out, even when we’re not working. Name a service, and we’re probably not allowed to use it.”

Beyond the myriad hurdles sex workers must battle online, Sorensen and Hunt described the larger climate created by legislation such as FOSTA and SESTA for sex workers around the world, how stigma around sex work is stagnating and the enormous lengths Assembly Four is forced to go to in order to achieve basic operation (such as purchasing an Estonian e-residancy to use European financial services).

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Stay tuned for more updates on the future of Break-fest – live in-depth conversations with good people doing good.

Subscribe to the Marketing podcast, MarCast, to be the first to hear our chat with Assembly Four at Break-fest #5 »

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Image credit: Jake Roden

Josh Loh
BY Josh Loh ON 28 October 2019
Josh Loh is assistant editor at MarketingMag.com.au