Challenging FOSTA-SESTA to Advance Sex Workers Health and Rights in the United States

The Open Society Public Health Program invites concept notes from civil society organizations and coalitions to advocate for sex workers’ health and human rights in connection to litigation efforts to challenge the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA).

Signed into law in April 2018, FOSTA-SESTA, as it’s more commonly known, was intended to make it easier to cut down on sex trafficking online. Instead, the law creates new penalties for online platforms and websites that sex workers have used to do their work safely and independently, including to communicate with each other, and share “bad date lists.”

These sites and social media platforms have played a critical role in helping some sex workers relocate off the streets to work more safely and independently indoors. These sites allowed sex workers more autonomy over their work, including the ability to screen clients, and define the boundaries of services provided. The removal of these tools has led to more unsafe work environments as some sex workers have returned to street-based work and/or come to rely on intermediaries to facilitate work. Some have also faced significant reductions in their income and ability to support themselves and their families.

This call offers unrestricted, organizational support to groups working on the above-described issues. Funding will be for a period of up to two years, and total funding will be between $50,000-$100,000. All grants will be awarded in 2019. Funding is not renewable.

Eligibility Criteria

Concept forms will be accepted from groups or coalitions that meet the following criteria:

  • Location: Organizations may be based anywhere in the United States, including U.S. Territories and Puerto Rico, doing work at the local, state, or national level.
  • Sex worker inclusion: Groups and coalitions must demonstrate meaningful inclusion of people with experience in the sex trades in project governance and/or leadership. Groups/coalitions which also demonstrate meaningful inclusion of trans people and people of color will be given priority.
  • Funding amount: Funding should be for a period of up to two years, and total funding should be between $50,000–$100,000. Groups without the capacity to execute projects of this scale are encouraged to collaborate with other organizations to submit joint proposals.
  • Funding time: Proposals may be for up to two years of funding.
  • Fiscal infrastructure: Applicants must be able to receive funds through an organizational bank account or via a fiscal sponsor. Applicants must have 501(c)3 status. Organizations without this status are encouraged to apply as part of a consortium; only the organization managing the funds is required to have 501(c)3 status.
Purpose and Priorities

We will consider concept forms from groups and coalitions that advocate for sex workers’ health and human rights in connection to litigation efforts to challenge FOSTA-SESTA. Our funding priorities include:

  • alliance building amongst sex worker groups, with internet freedom activists, with first amendment rights advocates, and with other allies;
  • researching and/or launching legal challenges to all or part of FOSTA-SESTA;
  • submission of amicus briefs and other direct participation in litigation;
  • the creation of advocacy strategies and/or mobilization moments connected to litigation;
  • political education for sex worker communities and/or policy makers;
  • advocating for changes in local policies or practices that negatively impact sex workers and simultaneously build the evidence base against FOSTA-SESTA;
  • strategic communications and storytelling through writing, the media, digital platforms, or other tools.

This call is open to both individual groups and coalitions. We do not support health or other service delivery.


Please submit a concept form of no more than three pages through the Open Society Foundations Grant Portal. Concept forms may be completed in English or Spanish. Please use the templates available in the Download Files section.

Submission Deadlines

  • Concept forms must be received by January 31, 2019, at 11:59 p.m. (EST). Late submissions will not be accepted.
  • On the basis of the concept forms, we will contact a select number of organizations and invite them to submit full applications due March 15, 2019.
  • All applicants who are not invited to submit a full application, or who are invited to submit a full application but are not funded, may request a brief written rationale to clarify the decision.
  • All grants will be awarded in 2019.
  • Questions about the submission process may be directed to [email protected].

Informational Conference Call

We will hold one hour webinar for groups/consortia who have questions about the application content or process.

Date: Thursday, January 17, 2019
Time: 12:00–1:00 p.m. PST / 3:00–4:00 p.m. EST
Web access: Join the call online

An audio recording of our previous informational call is available here.