When Calida worked on the streets in her 20s, she said, she would face abuse from clients and police. Some men would demand sex without condoms, cross her boundaries, refuse to pay, or physically hurt her, said Calida, who asked to be quoted under the name she uses for online writing and activism. She said passersby had thrown garbage at her.
Kristen DiAngelo, executive director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Sacramento, said her phone had been ringing off the hook since the seizure of Backpage: One woman told her she was forced to return to an abusive client due to the lost income, she said.
DiAngelo said she also feared the crackdowns could extend to organizations like hers that focus on harm reduction initiatives, such as handing out condoms. Could prosecutors accuse her of facilitating prostitution? Kit, who is in her late 20s and works as an escort, said that she chooses to do sex work because it has provided sustainable income.
Under the law, however, she could be treated as a trafficking victim, even though she said she was not being coerced: Jackie Monroe, a year-old California woman, said she was previously a victim of trafficking and was forced to do sex work.
She noted that law enforcement never helped her when she was a victim, instead charging her with prostitution and loitering offenses. How is this saving us? Sex workers were able to post their own ads and hand-screen respondents to make sure they were safe to take on as clients.
Consensual sex work transfers money mostly from white men into the pockets of poor and marginalized women, without wage theft. Not a single retail job does that. With street work, girls pick up clients by approaching strange men in public, often on a specific street or in a certain neighborhood. Sex workers also used sites like VerifyHim and other blacklist networks to flag dangerous individuals and weed out potentially dangerous clients.
The fact that the founders of Backpage are being charged with "aiding and abetting prostitution", and not anything to do with sex trafficking is all the proof you need that this is about punishing consensual sex workers, not rescuing sex trafficking victims.
The ultimate fear of the sex workers I spoke to, either for their fellow workers or for themselves, was being forced into doing street work — the kind of hustling you see in movies like Taken, where scantily clad women proposition random drivers out in public. Even the totally normal clients are more likely to try and push boundaries. The shutting down of Backpage is an absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients.
Lynn echoed that street work is incredibly dangerous. Once, Lynn said a gang kidnapped her friend and forced her to be a sex slave for a year — after they picked her up off of the streets.
Even though SESTA-FOSTA itself only covers crime related to prostitution, sex workers and internet activists say it sets a precedent for the government to require platforms to police any and all content users post online, lest the platforms be held accountable. Decriminalizing sex work does not help sex traffickers- it puts them out of business. This will endanger the lives of sex workers. Are the owners of YouTube criminally guilty of mass murder?