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Nothing has filled the void Backpage left behind. Presented as a solution to supposedly rampant online child sex trafficking, the bills were an easy sell in a deeply divided Congress: Many sex workers, though, feared that the outcome instead would be to take away crucial tools that sex workers have relied on for years to make their work safer, driving both consensual sex work and the very trafficking the bills would supposedly combat further underground. It was the only way I could keep from having to step outdoors to see clients.

Five days before Trump signed the bills into law in April, the Department of Justice raided Backpage. Some sex workers also shut down their own sites, and most switched from common email clients like Gmail to Protonmail , an encrypted service. Hers was a common story on Saturday, but despite the sobering context, the mood was festive.

The rally brought together friends who rarely saw each other or had never met offline, many of whom had met recently through anti-FOSTA activism. For longtime activists like Ceyenne Doroshow, who runs trans sex worker advocacy organization GLITS , this increase in enforcement is leading history to repeat itself. At the most risk, as always, are the trans sex workers of color who she supports. It literally ruins lives. If the government was worried about trafficking, here is a prime example of creating it.

It has been a turbulent few weeks for Backpage as well. Former CEO Carl Ferrer on recently pleaded guilty to similar state and federal charges and agreed to testify against his former bosses.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that gave law enforcement broader power to act against websites that host sexual services ads linked to human trafficking, and to allow victims and state officials to pursue cash damages in civil courts. The changes to laws governing online posting — cheered by anti-trafficking organizations, and decried as a dangerous overreaction by tech companies and free speech advocates — have prompted websites like Reddit and Craigslist to swiftly shutter pages that might have filled the void left by Backpage.

The Backpage indictment included the horrific tales of a dozen women and five underage girls who had been sold for sex by violent pimps or brutalized by johns. But Sarah tells a different story about the business transacted on the website — that of a single mom who has led a largely stable, comfortable suburban life with money she earns by having sex. Around , Sarah started out working for an escort service that was supposed to screen clients for safety — an arrangement she considered safer than walking the streets.

On one of her early bookings, she arrived at a house to find not one man waiting for her but three, who chased her to her car when she balked at going into the house, she says. Backpage launched as an online classified ads site — charging only to post ads in the various sections that, prosecutors say, were more or less explicitly selling sex — and Sarah says it was a massive improvement. A single ad might net her queries from prospective clients, allowing her to be selective.

The site also allowed her to contact clients initially without having to provide any of her personal contact information. Additional websites sprang up, creating online communities where workers could blacklist customers deemed dangerous. Many sex workers migrated onto more elaborate websites with detailed listings.

A search for a few common euphemisms like escort or even backpage on Twitter will show that even mainstream social media websites now are platforms for sex-industry marketing. Not every person posting ads on Backpage was charging hundreds of dollars an hour for their services, and as federal indictments and advocacy groups have pointed out, the far more sordid side of the sex trade took advantage of technology as well, concedes Alexandra Levy, a Notre Dame University law school professor who supports decriminalization of sex work.

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