A Critical Analysis of the Enactment of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018


  • Hannah DeLacey




This paper presents a critical analysis of the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018 (FOSTA), and the debate in the United States Congress that led to its enactment. Although the stated intention of this law was to protect victims of trafficking and for websites to be held accountable for their role in facilitating trafficking, FOSTA was controversial. It was predicted that FOSTA would be ineffective at achieving these goals and that sex workers would be disproportionately affected.


Two methodological approaches were used in order to understand why and how FOSTA was enacted - phronetic analysis (Flyvbjerg, 2001) and Bacchi’s (2009) the what’s the problem represented to be approach. These approaches guided the process of analysis of congressional debates related to FOSTA, and the collection and analysis of additional data.

Based on this analysis, this paper argues that lawmakers and other stakeholders created and disseminated a powerful narrative about sex trafficking in order to convince lawmakers to vote in favor of FOSTA. Those who spoke out against this narrative were ignored or silenced, and those who were expected to be most impacted by FOSTA (e.g. sex workers) were excluded from the discussion. This article gives insight into the lawmaking process and how it can be shaped by various actors and ideologies, and how sex workers are impacted by legislation aimed at curtailing sex trafficking.