IGF 2019 WS #389
Sex work, drug use, harm reduction, and the internet

Organizer 1: Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 3: Private Sector, African Group

Speaker 1: Maggie Mayhem, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Mauricia Abdol, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Datta Bishakha, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Teela Sanders, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 5: Alex Comninos, Civil Society, African Group

Additional Speakers

Lola Hunt, Switter/Assembly Four and Tryst  (Female, Academia, WEoG)

Maggie Mayhem (Female, Civil Society, WEoG)

Smita V - Point of View (Female, Civil Society, Asia Pacific)

Alex Comninos - Research ICT Africa (Male, Academia and Technical Community)


Panel - Auditorium - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

How do we ensure that women are safe both online and offline? How do we ensure that legislation aimed at removing sexual content, child protection, and cybersecurity does not result in harmful exclusion of some of societies most vulnerable? What are the unintended consequences for harmful groups of laws and regulations governing content, cyber security, child protection, and human trafficking actually foster inclusion of vulnerable groups and reduce harm for vulnerable groups? And how do we ensure that the unintended consequences of these regulations do not further foster societal exclusion and expose these groups to harm. How do we ensure that internet legislation and regulation regarding sex work, drugs, and cybersecurity results in less harm, rather than more harm for vulnerable groups including women, sex workers, children, abuse survivors, transgender people and those dependent on drugs? How do we ensure that attempts by social networking platforms to clean up sexual and drug related content does not result in exclusion and harm of vulnerable groups like women, transgender people, abuse survivors, and people dependent on drugs?


GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-Being
GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals

Description: The agenda for the session:

Round 1 : The panelists are introduced (5 minutes).

Round 2: Panelists introduce the issues (20 minutes): -

Lola Hunt, Switter/Assembly Four and Tryst  (Female, Academia, WEoG) will speak generally about harm reduction and online and offline sex work.

Maggie Mayhem (Female, Civil Society, WEoG) will speak about the internet and harm reduction for drug users

Smita V - Point of View (Female, Civil Society, Asia Pacific) will speak about working with sex marginalised sex workers in India

Alex Comninos - Research ICT Africa (Male, Academia and Technical Community) will speak about drugs and harm reduction. 

Round 3: Questions and comments from audience and remote participants (20)

Round 4: Responses by panelists (10 minutes) Round 5: Summary/wrap up by moderator including outline of online contributions and way forward

Expected Outcomes: The workshop will collect contributions from the panelists, audience, and the internet that will inform the report, as well as a list of policy recommendations that will be outcomes of the workshop. We expect as an outcome of the session to foster linkages and networks between sex worker and harm reduction activists and policy makers and the internet governance community so that both can work together for more nuanced policies that are considerate and inclusive of vulnerable communities and aim to reduce harms both online and offline. We hope that the workshop will help make the IGF a more welcoming place for the marginalised in society.

We will devote half of the question time to audience response, half of which will be dedicated to online participation. We will ask the audience to write down on a Google Doc or type pad policy recommendations which will inform the final report on the session.

Relevance to Theme: The internet has immense potential for the previously marginalised in society. The internet has the potential to offer harm reducing and life saving information, as well as to unite kindred spirits, and provide avenues for people to seek help with problems that they may be to marginalised and stigmatised to find in the offline world. Drug users can find out information about the dangers of the drugs they use as well as strategies for harm reduction. Online forums also allow ex-drug abusers to find other ex-drug abusers or sympathetic people, even professionals to support eachother to stay clean. Sex workers can find information about safety, and many apps or social networks (whether for sex workers - like Switter - or not- like Facebook and Tinder) offer potential for sex workers to find clients while radically reducing the potential harms. Far less sex workers are killed as a result of internet-enabled transactions than from those negotiated on the street. The internet provides avenues as well for sex workers to find psychosocial support, find information about harm reduction, and find information to empower themselves to seek other avenues of employment. Children and women are most likely to be sexually or physically abused by members of their family or community leading to stigmatisation, exclusion and the marginalisation of their voices. The internet can be an avenue to learn about their problems, empower them to seek help, and connect them with possible people, communities and organisations that may support them. Internet regulations and the rules of social networks, like the laws of the offline world, are often been made by cisgender men and have often resulted in the exclusion of women, children, transgender people, people with mental health problems, and drug dependent people, further pushing them into the margins of society. The war on drugs, and the prohibition of sex work have not resulted in a safer world for drug users or sex workers nor resulted in any significant dent in drug use and sex work. Rather it often pushes them to the margins of society leaving them more vulnerable and exposed to harm.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Many discussions about internet governance, and internet governance initiatives have tried to solve societal ills by restricting and removing sexual content and drug-related content. Do these initiatives increase or reduce harms? Do they foster exclusion of the most vulnerable in society? What are the unintended consequences of these initiatives for vulnerable groups? The workshop also aims to make the IGF a more welcoming place for marginalised, stigmatised, and vulnerable groups in society.

Online Participation

We will dedicate at least half of the question time to RP. We will also run a campaign encouraging RP, and get harm reduction organisations to link up with remote hubs.

Proposed Additional Tools: We hope to augment the participation through Twitter.