On Monday, the worlds largest classified ads website, was forced to shut down its adult section in the United States, due to the number of escorts that used the platform to advertise their services.
“Websites like Backpage.com facilitate sex trafficking across Minnesota and our country,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. “Backpage.com’s announcement that it will be shutting down its adult-services section is long overdue, but another positive step forward in our fight against human trafficking.”
Shuttering Backpage does not stop pimping, but it does make it harder for authorities and for sex workers to detect that kind of dangerous activity, said Maxine Doogan, president of the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project.
“There’s no research that says removing advertising sites reduces trafficking,” said Doogan, noting that women used the site to carefully screen clients, who could provide references to other Backpage workers. “Everybody is scrambling.”
Now, while most people are running around in circles, flailing and screaming “but trafficking!!!1”, what people fail to see is that by removing a platform that is mainly used by lower end providers, survival sex workers, POC, trans workers and basically marginalized people who are already most at risk of violence, what we are going to get is an influx of people turning to street-based work and more risky ways of earning money. Sure, everyone has seen the movie Taken, and as a result of sensationalized media, society has this narrowed, oversimplified view of what sex trafficking actually is.
When I was working in brothels, I would occasionally come across women who would be considered as being trafficked into the industry, by shitty abusive partners or by shitty circumstances. You wouldn’t know by looking at them or by talking to them, and while their situation was pretty crappy, they had emotional support from their peers and by management, access to health services, a place to conduct their business in a safe environment with no questions asked, and lodging and food whenever they needed it.
You know what DIDN’T help them? TAKING AWAY THEIR MEANS OF INCOME.
What we see happening in the media, and with anti SW agencies is the profiteering of ‘pity porn’, with the Big Bad Pimps being painted as the villains of Captain Save-A-Ho journalists; sensationalism and fear-mongering at its utmost peak. People don’t want to actually help trafficking victims, otherwise they would be coming up with alternatives that these people could engage, or y’know, solving issues such as youth homelessness or poverty or domestic abuse, immigration issues, or the myriad of issues that result in people entering into the sex industry when they don’t want to. I could go on for years about the countless stories of women being ‘saved’ from the sex industry and forced into sweatshops or other forms of menial labor, while church groups and Anti’s pat themselves on the back for being heroes.
So how can we help trafficking victims?
I get asked this all the time, by well meaning people that realize the harm that criminalization is doing, but have no idea what to do about it. The answer isn’t a simple one, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution because there are so many nuances and grey areas within the industry. The way to cut through all of this is basically just asking individual people-not people around them, not law makers, not charity workers or priests or social workers-what support they need in order to get to the lives they want. And then, if you have the ability, helping them in the ways they requested. That’s all you need to do. So if someone says they were exploited and they don’t want to be, ask them what they personally need to get to a space where they aren’t being exploited. If someone can’t make rent on minimum wage and wants to do sex work, ask them what support they need to stay safe.