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Sex Workers Protest Shutdown of Backpage’s Adult Ads Section Following Gvt. Pressure

Rather than showing advertisements for escort services, online classifieds site Backpage‘s adult entertainment section now hosts pages and pages bearing the words “censored” in red letters.

This follows the The Voice Media Group’s shut down of the adult entertainment classifieds last week, in response to government pressure which labelled Backpage a forum for trafficking.

Many sex workers and sex workers’ rights advocates, who say the site was a safer way to meet clients, have protested the shut down. They argue that targeting the site not only conflates trafficking with consensual sex work—a big issue in a country where sex work remains largely criminalized—it puts sex workers who relied on the site to meet clients at greater risk.

The shutdown follows years of public officials’ condemnation of the site as a tool used by sex traffickers, and the October arrest under pimping charges of CEO Carl Ferrer.

Sex workers have been criticizing the campaign against Backpage for months. Yet this protest has been largely ignored by lawmakers. And even some anti-trafficking organizations warn that the shutdown is the wrong move, as they say Backpage provided an above-ground platform for law enforcement to identify and pursue traffickers.

Critics of the shutdown are worried that the end of Backpage will mean more sex workers will have to work on the streets, which is higher risk and allows less space to negotiate with clients. Here’s an excerpt of a statement from HIPS, a DC-based org that provides services and advocates for sex workers and drug users’ rights:

We will call this what it is: over-criminalization of sex work and shutting down safe spaces for sex workers, under the guise of ending sex trafficking. Already, HIPS has heard from community members that in the space of one day, the only immediate option they have is being forced to work exclusively on the streets. They have lost access to choice, bodily autonomy, self-determination, and self-sufficiency. Under the guise of safety, we remove agency. This is illogical and inaccurate — it tells instead of listens to what sex workers need to be safe.

Sasanka Jinadasa, HIPS community resource manager, elaborates in the Daily Beast.

Over at Tits and Sass, Caty Simon covered the shutdown by pointing out the position of many sex workers between state criminalization and large companies, like Backpage, which profit from sex workers without advocating for them:

On one hand, you have the Senate and Harris, who know that calling up the specter of trafficking can always be counted on to earn them bipartisan PR points…On the other hand, you have Ferrer, Lacey, and Larkin invoking the American sacrament of free speech. It’s true that these men have been persecuted constantly for the crime of providing us with a safe space to advertise, and that I don’t think they’ve truly broken any laws. But what they are essentially arguing for is the First Amendment right to profit off a criminalized group of people. Whatever the merits of their cries of censorship, it’s difficult for us to worry about our free expression when we’re thinking about how the hell we’re going to put food on the table.

We’d all do well to listen to Caty here. The shutdown of Backpage will hurt sex workers. Yet sex workers shouldn’t have to be caught between moralizing politicians; an anti-sex work, racist, and sexist criminal justice system; and big companies to begin with. Making sure sex workers can work legally, with safety, economic security, and social justice starts by actually listening to them and not damaging livelihoods out of a misplaced savior complex.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in Indian cinema, theater, and visual art at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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