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Melissa Mariposa is an escort and owner of Red Umbrella Hosting; she has also established and improved several other sites to help other sex workers, since our options have been steadily shrinking due to the war on whores.  I asked her to write an introduction to these sites because I’ve seen too many shady operators attempting to capitalize on the panic the US government has intentionally sown in our community.

As someone with an IT background, I knew as soon as FOSTA-SESTA passed that our web presence was in trouble.  Many mainstream web hosts have officially prohibited sex work related content while actually looking the other way, but I thought this might cause a shift towards enforcing those policies — as under FOSTA-SESTA, they become liable for that content.  Without hesitation, I cancelled my next 2 tours, acquired an offshore server, and was up and running before the weekend.  I spent most of my spring both migrating and rebuilding sites from the Internet Archive for those that had lost their free sites without warning, and as I was plugging away, I started to notice a change in ad sites.  EROS was making huge policy changes but staying silent (remember they had been raided six months prior by DHS and which we still do not know what is going on), TER had excluded US providers entirely, P411 was announcing “upcoming changes”.  It seemed our ad market was slowly folding one site at a time.

Then Backpage happened; they operated flagrantly with their servers in Arizona and we all paid the price.  While having an offshore setup does not make you immune in itself, there are definitely ways to maintain anonymity — otherwise  Pirate Bay would not have an almost 20 year running time.   There is a right way to do things, and Backpage did not do it.  At all.  And what I’ve since discovered (to my horror) is that none of the big ad sites in our industry were following the path laid out by internet pirates before us; no one is following best practices for a grey market site.  Not one site.  Most of them are hosted in the US, or they use Cloudflare which is a service that is in no way safe for sex workers.  The most well known escort ad sites grossed in the millions; Backpage made $135 million in 2014 alone, and sites like P411, TER, and EROS are also unquestionably in the 7 figure club.  I naively thought that these multimillion dollar businesses that get so much from us at the very least had a qualified IT person who understood the nature of what they were doing; I was wrong — and in retrospect, I was really fucking stupid to think that.  This was a sharp reminder of what I already knew:  No one is here for us, they’re here to make money off of us.  Sex workers aren’t exploited by our clients, we’re exploited by these sites, and some of the worst actors in this industry have been owners of some of the highest grossing sites.  Why do we put our money in the pockets of pimps and panderers?  Because they make us feel like we have to.  They aggregate false ads from our real ads on other sites, draw our clients in, we think that’s where clients like to look, so we make ads there and give them our money.

So I started looking around for legitimately offshore provider-run ad sites.  I was tired of putting my money in the hands of opportunistic dudebros, people who wanted to make a fast buck and should have known better, but didn’t.  I want to put my money in the hands of qualified women in IT who know our industry, know security, and who work to help us.  What I found was Have We Met, which had been around since 2016 (I was a beta tester, as I love the concept) but with strict policies that hindered them in the pre-FOSTA market.  I decided to reach out the owners (a provider and her partner) and they took me on as a silent partner.  I started implementing small changes to policy and pricing, and after a few months they asked if I would be interested in acquiring ownership of the site.  I happily accepted, and after some restructuring, Have We Met became what it is today:  A place where a provider can create a profile with their stats, website, and photos, and list themselves for free in up to 20 areas.  They can also write one single ad which is automatically listed in whatever areas they choose to list their profile; so if you’re touring 10 cities, you just add those cities to your profile, set up your ad, and the ad is automatically listed in those 10 cities when a client searches for providers — no expiration date.  Have We Met isn’t just an ad site — there is also a dual sided verification feature.  The provider and the client  are both asked eight basic, non-intrusive, non-sexual questions about the encounter involving subjects like punctuality, safety, and hygiene.  This is a checkbox only system with no room for textual fantasies of illegal activity.   After the verification is complete, it shows up on the provider’s profile to show future clients that others have found her to be clean, safe, reputable, and pleasant to be around.  Clients can pay a small fee to show verifications on their profile.  The questions clients are asked seem more helpful than what a simple “whitelisting” or “okay” provides, and I also felt this would provide a nice alternative to reviews whilst providing the assurance clients seek from them.  A “review” on the legal exchange of time for money and nothing more.  Verification without incrimination.

Meanwhile, I decided to also build a simpler site, something familiar which everyone knew the feel of, which could be completely managed from a smartphone because I know a lot of providers who don’t use computers anymore except to advertise.  So SWAN was born:  A familiar-feeling classified system where everything from searching to ad building can be done from the tiny computer in your pocket.  Ads are free, and all upgrades are under $10 (and you just so happen to get $10 credit free when you sign up for the site).  Like Red Umbrella Hosting, these sites require no ID to advertise and take no personal information to get started; they both offer free advertising, with optional paid upgrades with three methods of anonymous payment: physical gift card, crypto, and money order via mail.  I do not wish to tie your work life to your real life in any way; I don’t want your drivers license or pictures of your face with your work name written on it.  Those measures, used by other sites, are overly intrusive and unnecessary.  I have tried to approach building these sites from the angle of, “What do I as a provider want?” as well as asking others.  I welcome all feedback — positive and negative — on all of my offerings so I can continuously improve them.  I want to make tools that people want.

When FOSTA-SESTA hit, some of the popular blacklists began “cleaning up” entries that had titles such as “rape”, changing them to “bad date”.  In fear that we would no longer have an unadulterated blacklist, I set up OurList; I also have a site launching this week called Relax With Me, which you’ll just have to wait and see about (I will tell you that it involves advertising and another non-vulgar alternative to traditional reviews, and will also be free for providers).  Coming up in 2019 there are two large projects on the horizon for my company Trystworthy; Michael Fattorosi has speculated that within the next year our social media options will be gone, and I agree.  So I have been working with another developer on how to best start and implement a new social platform (NOT Mastadon) and am hoping to open something by the end of the first quarter at the latest.  The other project is completely under wraps for now, but you should be hearing something soon; it’s completely different and totally unrelated to any other offering I have and I am beyond excited.  My goal going forward is that I want to continue to offer useful tools to providers in this industry affordably, reliably, and transparently; all sites I build are fully functional for providers without a single dollar invested, and optional upgrades are exactly that:  Optional.  Advertising should not be your biggest overhead, a headache, or something you dread thinking about; it should be the easiest part of your job, and that’s what I am striving to do.   These sites are labors of love for an industry that has given me my entire life.  Building tools for the future is the best way I feel I can “give back”, and I will continue working towards this goal for as long as I draw breath.

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter may remember that on several occasions I’ve tweeted GoFundMe appeals for homeless sex workers, organized by a close friend of mine who does street outreach.  Recently, I asked her to write something for me so that in future, I can point back to it to explain who it is I’m asking charity for.  This lady is a Seattle sex worker who is well-known in our community, but prefers to remain anonymous for her activism.  If you’d like to help her out (because she does 95% of this out of her own pocket), please let me know and I’ll arrange a way for you to donate to her important work.

Like so many things in this industry, it started with Kristen D’Angelo, who contacted me because her friend from Sacremento had a daughter living in Seattle.  Kristen’s friend was concerned his daughter was working on the streets and was hoping to get someone to check on her; she (let’s call her Jess) was homeless, using drugs, and working on Aurora Avenue.  Maggie and I ended up taking her out for dinner.  More than anything, she was surprised that instead of being met with judgement and Jesus, she was met by peers with compassion and kindness (along with some screening tips for seeing clients).  Shortly thereafter, I found out an acquaintance of mine had lost her housing, and she and her boyfriend were living out of their car.  I would go see her once, occasionally twice, a week, bringing lunch or dinner, and we would eat together and talk.  After a couple visits I starting meeting some of the people that they had befriended in their time on the streets.  I was struck by the situations of the women there.  To see women so vulnerable was terrifying…but I wasn’t sure what I could do.  I asked them: what do you need?  How can I help?  While I don’t have a tremendous surfeit of disposable income, I could certainly spend $100 a week buying food for people that badly needed it.  So I did.

Simultaneously, I was keeping in (more sporadic) contact with Jess.  It wasn’t long before I was heading up to Aurora once a week (give or take) as well.  Eventually I was out two or three nights a week talking to young women from Aurora to Belltown to SoDo, both in the jungle and working the streets.  I found myself out at 7pm, 10pm, or midnight walking through the city, talking to people.  Instead of being in Greenlake or Madrona, I found myself in places with appellations like the Batcave and Clowntown; I was under the viaduct and in tent cities along the highway.  Within this world, it takes time to earn trust; there are always, to this day, some women that refuse to talk to me or that I have met five times but act as if they don’t know me…and that’s fine.  For the ones that do talk, I hand out condoms and Narcan.  I bring jackets, food, toiletries, clean socks, and camping propane tanks.  I take girls to Planned Parenthood for panel tests; to emergency shelters; to drop them off at detox.  Many of them, if you asked, would not identify as a sex workers, and if you called them a sex worker, you might get punched in the face.  But, if you said, “if you give me a blowjob, you can sleep in my tent tonight.”  Well, that’s an easy yes!!  Whether they identify as sex workers or not, they know when they see me that religion isn’t coming into the conversation and I am not going to tell them what they should do or have to do.  Giving these women autonomy in their decision-making is very important; even when, in my opinion, they may make a terrible choice, it’s theirs to make and I won’t try to take that away from them.  Similarly, none of the things I hand out have strings attached; the only rules are I will not give out cash or buy drugs.

When I meet women that are open to talking, I may make some harm reduction suggestions or ask them what they need.  Much of the time, I listen.  Many of these women have suffered extensive trauma, have drug abuse issues (the desire to anesthetize a terrible situation is strong), or have mental health problems – or all three.  In addition, there is the pervasive sense of hopelessness that comes with being utterly marginalized and, in effect, thrown away by society; just having someone listen and acknowledge you can be significant.  It definitely isn’t the easiest volunteer path I could have taken.  There have been multiple calls from girls that have been raped, assaulted, or robbed.  I helped a girl that had been thrown out of a moving car by a client, and another girl that was pistol-whipped by her boyfriend.  I’ve Narcan’d people through countless overdoses (if anyone ever needs to be resuscitated – I am a fucking pro).  I’ve been hung up on by police when calling 9-1-1 for help and been told by the paramedics that they “can’t” go where they are needed.  I’ve stepped over dead bodies and had rats the size of Boston Terriers leisurely swagger over my toes.

The other side is that there are happier stories.  I paid out my own pocket for a girl to go to rehab because I believed in her when no one else did; she completed 90 days of treatment and moved back to her parent’s house in Minnesota.  That was over a year ago and she is still clean and sober.  Two girls had been living in and out of motels on Aurora and we worked together to get them into a low-income apartment; two other girls saw what they did and decided they could do it too.  I’ve acted as an advocate for a girl that was brutally raped by a prominent Seattleite; I connected her with a lawyer and could not have been happier for her when she got a ridiculously large settlement.  Money didn’t make the PTSD disappear, but it certainly put her in a situation where she could take time and heal.  Unfortunately, the stories with (ahem) happy endings are exceptionally few and far between; the emotional labor can be intense, overwhelming, and exhausting.  I’ve asked myself more than once why I’m not walking dogs at the Humane Society, and I have spent more hours than I can count crying on Maggie’s couch.  But I very strongly believe that everyone needs some help now and then; if I can help someone make a more informed decision or turn a corner, then it’s worth it.

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Wendy McElroy is a respected anarchist writer whose work I’ve linked on a number of occasions.  Six years ago I linked the following piece in one of my earliest link columns, but when I recently went to look for it I found the link was no longer good; however, Wendy was kind enough to provide a copy and permission to reprint it.  It expresses some ideas I’ve written about many times in a way that perhaps may help you to understand them a bit more deeply.

I am not talking about spousal abuse.  I mean the abuse heaped upon you by the United States government.  The parallels are striking.

America claims to own you and, so, you pay a heavy price for leaving as an expat.  It cruelly invades your breasts and genitals through pat-downs at the airport.  Then it does the same to your children.  America swears it is protecting you while violating your rights at every turn; and you have become so brainwashed that you now mistake a fist in your face for safety.  There is no respect and no honesty in the relationship the government offers you – only a self-serving contempt that erupts into violence.  Your response is to return a love of country along with the money you earn, all the while making excuses for America’s bad behavior.  Or, perhaps, you even defend America to critics.

I know how you feel.  I was once in such an abusive domestic relationship that I am now legally blind in one eye from a fist in the face.  After I managed enough self-respect to leave, one question haunted me.  Why did I stay?  Why would an otherwise independent woman allow herself to be literally beaten up when there were options?

The reasons are similar to why people stay in America.  He expressed regret and swore he would make it up to me; I wanted to believe him because the love of a person diminishes slowly.  He vowed to change; I hoped we could go back to before he exerted soul-crushing control of who I was and what I could do.  I was frightened to be without him because I believed both his attacks on my self-worth and the pumped-up version of his own value.  Besides which, leaving meant severing ties with close friends who would be called upon to take sides.

America is doing much the same to you.  Officials mouth regret at violations like a ruinous tax burden and, then, they offer you entitlements with your own money.  You stay because love of a country also diminishes slowly.  America promises to change and you remember what “the land of the free” used to feel like; it was intoxicating.  You now believe you are powerless while the government is a relentless Goliath.  Besides which, leaving would mean moving away from family and friends.

But walking away was one of the best things I’ve ever done.  It was also one of the most difficult.  Despite my fears, however, I met someone else who taught me that love did not have to be packaged in bruises and pain.

There are places in the world that want you and they offer you respect instead of victimization.  For example, a few months ago, Panama adopted a policy to make residency faster and easier for you.  Executive Order 343 explicitly lists citizens of the United States as being welcome on its soil.  In short, Panama created an entirely new immigration sub-category for you.

The first step toward personal or political self-respect is to explore your options.  You may not choose to walk out the door but at least you will know where it is and how to turn the handle.

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I don’t often do sequels to previous guest columns, but I thought y’all might want to see this update from “John Seattle”; if you haven’t read his column on Seattle’s “john school” yet, you probably should before reading this one.

Last year, Maggie was very kind to publish my response to Peter Qualliotine’s STOP Exploitation classes.  It was written before I had completed the series of classes; the final session ended with Qualliotine giving a pep rally-esque speech in which he asked, “Are you with me?  Will you stop buying sex?”  This question was met with a long, drawn out silence broken only by my giggling when I realized what had happened.  At the time I felt as if I had thoroughly rejected the toxic messaging of his class, but that was not as simple as it seemed.  It was Wendy Zukerman’s Science VS podcast episode entitled “Sex Addiction: Are They Faking It?” that gave me insight to the need to understand better the damaging impacts of shame.  According to the podcast, the truth about sexual addiction (one of the many toxic messages Qualliotine dispenses) is that no scientific evidence supports its existence; what some believe to be sex addiction is the feeling of shame, which is why belief in “sex addiction” is strongly correlated with religious beliefs that sexuality is sinful.

The “sex addiction” myth is thus very useful for someone who is trying to shame others out of their sexuality.  In a local article, Qualliotine was described as someone who “sees patronizing prostitutes as part of a continuum of…behaviors that includes sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape.”  Through psychological manipulation Qualliotine’s message is that “the core of who and what you are as a person is that of a harasser, abuser, and rapist.”  What he calls “education” is actually based on sex-shaming in order to change behavior, a social conformity strategy very much like the thoroughly-discredited “conversion therapy” is supposed to “cure” gay people.  And even though it doesn’t accomplish what its purveyors claim, subconsciously this toxic messaging lingers, causing emotional damage and isolation in its victims that manifest in harmful ways, such as social anxiety, and despair.

There are a lot of reasons for people to have sex, and none are wrong as long as all partners give consent and treat each other ethically.  Undoing the damage caused by the lie that this is not so, that outsiders have the right to impose rules on other adults, is harder than one might think, but there are resources available; Dr. David Ley, Lola Davina, and Maggie are just a few of the writers who helped me to start the process.  But the first step is to recognize the damage done by sexual shaming even in people who intellectually know better.

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Mike Siegel is a professional astronomer who has been one of my online friends for about six years now; he has helped me analyze bad studies and calculate statistics, given me advice on scientific points in some of my stories, and even been featured here as a fiction writer himself.  I’ve also linked to some of his articles, and right now he has an excellent demolition of FOSTA and the evil mindset which spawned it on the group blog Ordinary Times.  He was kind enough to allow me to publish this excerpt, but you really ought to read the whole thing.

…We are in the midst of War on Sex Work that is largely becoming a replacement for the War on Drugs…A war on sex work would be difficult given that about half of Americans think prostitution should be legal.  And so this war has built on a tissue of falsehoods to claim that it is actually a war on “sex trafficking”.  We are constantly being told — by politicians, by the media and by the entertainment industry — that there is a national crisis of sex trafficking and specifically a crisis of child sex trafficking.  But the evidence to support this claim, when you dig into it even a little bit, turns out to be a ziggurat of garbled statistics, junk social science and outright lies.  My friend Maggie McNeill has devoted an entire page to debunking claims that are so common and oft-repeated, they are taken as gospel: that the average age at which a woman enters sex work is 13 (it’s mid-20’s); that there are 300,000 child sex slaves in the US (there are at most a few hundred), that sex trafficking and consensual sex work are inextricably linked (they aren’t); that the Super Bowl or other big events are magnets for sex traffickers (not at all).  It goes without saying that forced sexual servitude is an abomination…but if that’s what you’re concerned about, it seems like a good first step would be to decriminalize sex work for adults, as organizations like Amnesty International have advocated.  Doing so would free up law enforcement resources to work the real problem rather than being devoted entirely to routine prostitution busts.

Let’s illustrate that with one example: about every year, the federal government runs a program called Operation Cross Country — a vast multi-agency operation to crack down on “sex trafficking”, at the end of which they will claim to have rescued something on the order a hundred underage sex slaves (which alone should tell us that we do not have anywhere close to 300,000 of them).  Elizabeth Nolan Brown has done amazing work sifting through the propaganda and found that these operations typically arrest over a thousand consenting adults.  Mixed in with those adults are usually a few dozen to a hundred underage sex workers, but most of these are doing it not because of enslavement but because they have run away or been thrown out of their homes).  The operations also arrest a couple of hundred “pimps” but these are often people whose pimping consists of driving their girlfriend to an incall or processing credit card payments…

…I have seen how the case for prohibition is supported by lies…[which is] what has drawn me into this debate so keenly.  It offends me as a scientist…FOSTA was ostensibly proposed to allow the federal government to crack down on online sex trafficking.  This promise was predicated, like most of the War on Sex Work, on dubious stats.  Sex workers vehemently opposed it but their voices were drowned out by supporters misrepresenting the law and celebrities making bizarre claims like ordering a sex slave was as easy as ordering a pizza…Sex Worker rights advocates, digital freedom advocates and libertarians made dire predictions about what was going to happen…So what has happened over the last three months?  Exactly what was feared…and as the weeks have rolled on, it has become painfully and immediately obvious that FOSTA has made things far far worse for sex workers…what FOSTA has done…[is] just as bad as the sex worker advocates warned us it would be…

…wars on sin have often engaged in what I call “harm enhancement” (as opposed to “harm reduction”).  During the War on Drugs, we banned the sale of certain chemicals to Colombia that were used to facilitate drug manufacturing; the result was drugs that had carcinogens in them, which politicians hoped would persuade people to stop using them.  A similar controversy erupted over paraquat pot, herbicides sprayed on marijuana that found that their way into people’s lungs.  During prohibition, industrial alcohols were deliberately poisoned in an effort to stop people from drinking them.  And there is little doubt that the War on Sex Work has frequently seen increased danger as a deterrent.  In many states, a woman simply having condoms on her is considered evidence of prostitution.  Sex workers have reported being pulled over by cops and watching them poke holes in condoms.  The closure of MyRedBook and Rentboy and Backpage did little to stop sex work but plenty to prevent sex workers from screening out dangerous clients.  When a movement engages in policy after policy designed to increase the danger, I think it it reasonable to assume that it is deliberate…this even goes beyond sex work, however.  Our political class has long had a hatred for Section 230 of the CDA, which they see as protecting speech they don’t like.  The last year has been filled with attacks on Facebook and other social media for allowing “fake news” to percolate (the effect of which is very unclear).  The effects of this bill go even beyond the impact on sex workers, bad as that has been.  It is the camel’s nose in the tent of undermining Section 230 and turning the internet into a “safe”, controlled, gated, milquetoast community.  And what better way to get the camel’s nose in the tent than through “solving” a vastly exaggerated crisis?…

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Jeremy Malcolm is the founder and director of the Prostasia Foundation, the first sex-positive and pro-civil rights child protection organization.  He’s an IT and intellectual property lawyer and consultant, and a member of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum; prior to Prostasia he was Senior Global Policy Analyst at Electronic Frontier Foundation. When he asked me to be on Prostasia’s advisory council I gladly accepted, and when it came time to start getting the word out I naturally offered this space.

As a child, I remember how terrified I was by a rerun of the 1956 movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which the lead character attempts to sound the alarm about a stealth alien invasion of Earth.  In the final scene of the movie, mounting panic overcomes him as realizes that he is too late, and that the vehicles passing him by on the roadside are already carrying the alien pods that contain the seeds of humanity’s doom.  The movie was widely interpreted as a cold war allegory, because it reflected how the public fear of infiltration of the United States by communists had been worked up into such a frenzy by Senator Joseph McCarthy that it empowered the government (for a while) to get away with taking repressive measures in response—measures that would never otherwise have been considered justified outside of wartime.  Although the red scare has passed, the public feeling of creeping terror about existential threats to our society, and the shrewd and calculating management of that feeling, remains part and parcel of contemporary politics today.  So much so, that international relations scholars have a specific a word used to describe what happens when governments manipulate public fear in this way: it’s called securitization.

When a public policy issue is not merely politicized, but securitized, it is constructed in such a way that authorities assert the right to take extraordinary and otherwise impermissible measures in response.  Whatever the issue happens to be—it might be terrorism, ebola, or migration, for instance—if politicians are able to whip up enough hysteria about the threat that it poses to the integrity and long-term survival of a society, concerns about human rights, public debate, and due process can be hand-waved away.  Too much is at stake—our lives, our liberty!  And very often too: our children.  So it is that we often observe this pattern of rhetoric when child protection laws are put forward.  It is quite right that we should do all that we can constitutionally do to protect children from sexual abuse, and that the political process should be a part of this.  It’s also normal that politicians will selectively use the evidence that supports laws that they favor.  But a healthy political process is one in which that evidence is at least open for debate, and in which the effects of proposed laws on our rights and freedoms as a society are carefully scrutinized.  These democratic safeguards are frequently bypassed when it comes to child protection laws, because of how child sexual abuse is securitized, framed as an existential threat that has to be purged from society at any cost.  This construction of the issue transforms Congress from what should be – a sober, deliberative legislative body (a filter for the views of the people, as Alexander Hamilton would have it) – into a mirror of a society in moral panic, willing to accept with a minimum of scrutiny almost any measure that purports to address the problem.

Proponents of such laws know this full well, which is why they invest heavily in fueling and manipulating the moral panic that gives child protection this privileged status in political discourse.  One way in which they do this is by playing on emotions, rather than evidence—and since child protection involves very strong emotions anyway, all that might be needed to push a law over the line might be the performative retelling of the story of the victim chosen to be the law’s public face (Megan’s Law, the template for America’s ubiqituous, although ineffective, sex offender registration laws, is a good example of this).  It was much the same in the case of FOSTA/SESTA too, for which it was a movie about sex trafficking, along with a series of increasingly fever-pitched (if largely fictitious) stories about the commercial child sex trafficking industry, that made the law unassailable against evidence of its flaws.  In the end, all but two Senators voted for a law that has actually made the fight against sex trafficking harder, while also harming sex educators, putting adult sex workers in physical danger, and seeing a rash of privatized censorship sweeping the Internet.  Even aside from these laws’ harmful side-effects, they aren’t even fit for purpose, because the vast majority of sexual offending isn’t a result of child sex trafficking, nor is it committed by those who are already registered sex offenders.  In fact, notwithstanding popular belief to the contrary, most child sex offending isn’t even committed by pedophiles.  That’s not to say that prevention interventions can’t be aimed at these groups, but if that’s where we stop then we are barely scratching the surface of the problem.  Politicians and the public alike rely a lot on the stereotype of the child sexual abuser as a creepy old man hanging around a schoolyard in a van, or the brazen sidewalk pimp with links to organized crime.  Just as the stereotype of the psycho serial killer represents the much larger problem of violence in America, it can be perversely comforting to be able to focus our attention on these sorts of outlying abusers, as it helps us feel that we have a handle on the problem.

What was scariest about Invasion of the Body Snatchers wasn’t the fear an alien might come and kill you or a loved one.  The most terrifying part of the movie (spoiler alert!) was the revelation that your loved one was already an alien, and you didn’t even know it.  The “red scare” was so scary not because of the reds over the ocean, but because of the reds under the bed.  So too, potential child abusers are in every neighborhood, and in many families; they don’t identify (nor would be clinically diagnosed) as pedophiles, and they certainly aren’t going to be prevented from offending by laws aimed at the sex industry or at those who have offended in the past.  It’s a sobering thought.  But the good news is that the scale of the problem doesn’t have to make us feel paralyzed into inaction.  There are things that we can do—it’s just that politicians aren’t going to do them, or at least not for as long as self-righteous morals campaigners and “tough on crime” ideologues control the child protection agenda.  What’s needed is a broader primary sex-positive prevention approach that respects the civil and human rights of all.  Prostasia Foundation is the first child protection organization to simultaneously champion such an approach, while also criticizing laws and policies that while putatively for child protection, are really nothing more than child protection theater.  Formed following the passage of FOSTA/SESTA by a diverse group including child sexual abuse survivors, civil rights campaigners, medical health professionals, and sex industry experts, we are currently crowdfunding with the aim of a full launch next month, and we could use your support.

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Skye is a sex worker who’s been reading my blog almost since the beginning; I knew that her primary means of advertising was Backpage, so when she asked me to give her space to discuss it I immediately agreed.

On April 6th of this year, the federal government committed an act of violence against millions of sex workers worldwide, for no other reason than the fact that these individuals engaged in consensual sex for reasons the government didn’t like (reasons such as keeping a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food in their mouths).  That violence took the form of shutting down Backpage, an advertising site used by sex workers such as myself.  On April 6th, I lost my means of support; being able to advertise my business on Backpage allowed me to meet my financial needs, and even kept me from having to go on welfare benefits.  Backpage was where most of my clients found me.  I’m currently 48 years old; I started sex work when I was 41, back in 2011, and work exclusively for myself.  Hardly the stereotype of the “under-aged girl” controlled by some nefarious pimp, right?  Yet this was the excuse used by the government to shut down my advertising—that Backpage was pimping out “trafficked young girls”.  Except that it wasn’t.  Not at all.

Let me backtrack to before 2011, when I worked “straight jobs”, or what’s normally called “regular work” by those not in the sex trade.  Even though I went to college, I’ve never been able to obtain a job worthy of my education; this means I was stuck doing low-paying work for most of my adult life.  Before sex work, I got up at 5 AM every morning, and many times didn’t get home until 8 PM, and I still barely made ends meet.  When I finally lost that job, meager as it was, I placed an ad on Backpage, and the rest is history.  For the past seven years, I’ve done work that did not require a resumé, or experience, or references, or the endless filling out of job applications, or the endless waiting for potential employers to contact me.  I simply put up an ad, and that was it.  In fact, I got a client the very same day, and had cash in my hand by the evening.  No fuss, no muss.  No, it’s not what’s considered “respectable work” by society, but “respectability” is for those who can afford it, not for people who live in the real world of having to pay rent and bills like I do.  Not that it was always easy; I am not a rich woman by any means, because sometimes I didn’t get clients when I needed them.  But I met my basic needs.

I represent the majority of people who used Backpage, people who were just consenting adults advertising a service.  “Traffickers” who used Backpage were a tiny minority, because any trafficker foolish enough to advertise on Backpage usually got caught, eventually, because their mere presence online alerted authorities to their existence.  The Backpage company cooperated completely with those investigations, but since no good deed ever goes unpunished, those same authorities turned around and charged them in turn.  However, it’s important to note that the owners of Backpage, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, are NOT being charged with “sex trafficking” at all, contrary to the media hype, only with boring, mundane things like “facilitating prostitution” and “money laundering”, which aren’t nearly as exciting.  Furthermore, Lacey and Larkin are wealthy males who will most likely receive very little jail time, if any, and they’re currently out on bail, and their case won’t go to trial until January 15, 2020.  Plenty of time for their expensive team of lawyers to help them beat the rap and settle out of court.

Meanwhile, it’s advertisers like myself who are truly being hurt by Backpage’s shutdown, not Lacey and Larkin.  Backpage wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was ideal for those wished to work part time or occasionally, who wanted to keep a certain degree of anonymity, who lived in areas not served very well by other websites.  It was ideal for more marginalized people who don’t fit well on pricier, “high-end” ad venues.  I’m fortunate in that I have enough money saved that I won’t face immediate eviction from my apartment, but spring and summer are normally the busiest time of the year for me, and I haven’t gotten the clients recently that I’d normally get; I don’t know what will happen to me in the next few months.  It’s even worse for those living week to week, or have children to support; many of these women have already become homeless, or ironically, have had to turn to pimps to find clients.  Yes, the shutting down of Backpage has actually increased “sex trafficking”.  And, thanks to the increased difficulty of getting clients since the shutdown, many desperate women are endangering their health and that of others by offering sex without a condom, or else they haven’t been able to refuse potential predators and are now dead or missing.  All thanks to the government, media, and various “anti-trafficking” NGOs who’ve demonized a simple advertising site over the past decade, one that actually helped to find “traffickers” more quickly than if their victims were being forced onto the street (as they are now).  Who exactly is being served here?  Certainly neither consensual nor coerced sex workers.  And if I had my way, the government would be forced to pay us for the trouble it caused.

As an anonymous sex worker, I’m thankful for intrepid activists and journalists like Laura Agustín, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Kate D’Adamo, Maxine Doogan, Maggie McNeill, Audacia Ray, Liara Roux, and others too numerous to mention for speaking truth to power in a way that I can’t.  They’re a few drops of integrity in an ocean of malice and indifference.

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