Closing the Backpage
Katessa Harkey
/ Categories: Taking Liberties

Closing the Backpage

The Continuing Pogrom against Sex Workers

On January 9th, 2017, an event occurred sending shockwaves through the sex work community. Without warning, shut down its adult services section, leaving many consensual providers with no means of income. They cited extensive government pressure, including California's criminal charges accusing the company's officers of pimping and of covering up child sex trafficking, among other things. While these charges were dismissed in December, other charges for the exact same activities were almost immediately filed.

Backpage has in turn accused the government of engaging in unconstitutional censorship.

Backpage opened its doors in 2004, but expanded more into adult services advertising when Craigslist was similarly targeted and forced to remove its similar section in 2010. Sex workers were immediately outraged, frustrated, and afraid. Industry insiders report that Backpage represented the most affordable and worthwhile option for the most vulnerable workers. But it isn't just consensual workers who will suffer.

As reported by Vocativ:

“In Backpage’s public statement, Lois Lee, president of Children of the Night, a hotline and shelter for sex trafficking victims, said, 'It’s a sad day for America’s children victimized by prostitution. was a critical investigative tool depended on by America’s vice detectives and agents in the field to locate and recover missing children and to arrest and successfully prosecute the pimps who prostitute children.'”

What's odd about this crusade against “online brothels” (as opponents have termed it) is that other sites catering to upper-class clientele have not been so targeted. In example, the site pairs young women (and to a lesser extent men) with affluent partners willing to trade the accoutrements of an upper-class lifestyle and “allowances” for... well, sex. The site vehemently insists that what is happening there isn's prostitution, because the relationships are potentially ongoing and freely negotiated between consenting parties - just like any other relationship. 

However, consider the words of this young lady, who would never have chosen this life but for the need to cover her nursing degree:

“I’ll have some friends who are like, ‘Oh, sign me up, sign them up,’” she said. “Then people start hitting them up, hitting them up and they can’t do it. You can’t be fragile. You have to be a strong person. You can get emotionally hurt. You should not be emotionally attached. You have to cut emotion. You have to cut mental.”

“Sometimes I’ll just lay there and look up at the ceiling and think about how much I want to cry,” she said.

Another traditionally-overlooked branch of the field is sexual surrogacy. In this version of the profession arising in the '70's, a psycho-therapist writes you a treatment program that includes sessions with a surrogate in order to help you overcome various issues of dysfunction deemed treatable in this manner. Such issues may range anywhere from deep childhood trauma to simple inexperience. While the legality of surrogacy has never been established, the fact of a credentialing agency and the complicity of psychological professionals has thus far kept investigators at bay.

Why isn't this prosecuted as prostitution? Well, psychologists have credentials; and the surrogates pay thousands of dollars for theirs. The clients must either have insurance or be able to pay the out-of-pocket expense for continuing treatments with both the therapist AND the surrogate. All parties involved therefore have a certain degree of affluence; and dare one say privilege?

Prostitution is not called “the oldest profession” for no reason. Whether as wives and mothers, or as prostitutes, or something in-between, most women must find some way to extract their value as sexual partners in order to make a way for themselves in the world. Even women in the professional world will be treated as pawns by their companies because of the assets of their gender. This is to say nothing of the wide variety of sex work jobs that are indeed perfectly legal - including modeling, acting in pornography, actual escorting (without sex involved), stripping, and other forms of sexualized performance art. 

It is high time that the government recognize the reality of uncompensated “women's work”; and cease the moralistic crusade against those who would rather negotiate their terms up-front.

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