September 14, 2010

Band Aids, Saving Face, and Endangering Sex Workers: The Craigslist Saga

Craigslist’s self-censorship of its adult services ads will do nothing to end sex trafficking, though it might make it a little more challenging to post adult ads on the site. As a former Craigslist sex worker myself, I know that not all commercial sex interactions are sex slavery. In fact, many transactions facilitated by the Internet involve independent sex workers who have greater control over their working conditions than they would without access to online advertising.

Prostitution–and today’s Internet iteration of the business–is a perennially popular issue for politicians to crack down on because elected officials get the opportunity to speak up for supposedly voiceless and exploited people (13 of the 17 attorneys general making the fuss right now are up for re-election this year). However, people in the sex industry are not voiceless, and we must be consulted when policies that directly affect our safety and well-being are under consideration. There are many different kinds of work experiences in the sex industry, and targeting a single website as a means of combating sex trafficking is not only highly ineffective, but puts people who are not coerced into sex work at risk.

There are thousands of both illegally and legally working sex workers – prostitutes, dominatrices, body workers, exotic dancers, webcam performers, and many others – who utilize websites like Craigslist to advertise their services in an independent capacity. The Internet has now made it more possible than ever for individual sex workers to take control of their businesses instead of relying on agencies, pimps, gentleman’s clubs, and brothels, which are frequently the sources and sites of grievously exploitative labor practices that include but are not limited to trafficking. Individuals who work indoors and advertise online, as I did, are safer than street workers because we frequently rely on online networks to screen clients, maintain bad date lists, and share information about best practices for health and safety. Removing online spaces for this community building, which often starts with advertising, drives independent workers underground and forces them to rely on groups that do not have their best interests at heart.

The attorneys general are right to combat sex trafficking. Coerced labor and coerced sex are clear evils. However, ending sex trafficking takes careful strategy, and what the Federal and State governments are doing to combat trafficking is not working. The federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (link starts auto-download of PDF) has resulted in just over 400 sex trafficking convictions in the last decade, and very few survivors of sex trafficking are receiving aid from state and federal agencies. Furthermore, sex trafficking is over-represented in media coverage of human trafficking. The International Labour Organization estimates that for every person trafficked into prostitution, nine people are trafficked into forced labor situations that include agricultural work, domestic labor, and many others. Furthermore, though public debate conflates sex trafficking and sex work, they are not the same thing. The 10th Edition of the Trafficking in Persons Report released by the Department of State in June clearly states that, “prostitution by willing adults is not human trafficking regardless of whether it is legalized, decriminalized, or criminalized.”

Until it censored adult services, Craigslist was exploring ways to better combat trafficking and exploitative labor practices within the sex industry, and was discussing best practices for this with Craigslist. Losing this avenue for advertising also means that law enforcement officials and social services that strive to improve the health and well-being of people in the sex industry are less able to identify and do outreach to such persons.

It’s true that many forms of sex work are criminalized, but prohibition is not an effective means of halting a practice, especially an income-generating one. Instead of shutting down Craigslist, the attorneys general should engage in conversations with people who work in the sex industry about how to identify sex trafficking and differentiate it from sex work. Instead of arresting individual trafficking survivors or consenting sex workers, we must support individuals who do not want to be in the sex industry in securing safe housing, accessing health services including mental health and addiction treatment when needed, and obtaining the education and training needed to find jobs that pay a living wage that is comparable to or better than earnings in the sex industry.

7 Comments on “Band Aids, Saving Face, and Endangering Sex Workers: The Craigslist Saga”

1
Lia
9.14.10
4:24 pm

Finally! I’m glad to read your thoughts on this.

2
TastyTrixie
9.15.10
10:08 pm

SO APPRECIATIVE/GLAD to read the stats comparing sex trafficking to other forced labor, putting it into context and perspective. Goes to show that all of these irrational weirdos equating selling sex by choice with trafficking don’t care so much about human rights and protecting people as they do wallowing in their bizarre titillating pervert fantasies of rape and paternalistic heroism.

3
The Beautiful Kind
9.15.10
10:12 pm

I was a CL whore, and I found it to be a terrible venue for sex worker ads. I encountered a lot of frustrating barriers. There are better ways. I wrote about my experience here: http://thebeautifulkind.com/columns/tbk-saga/i-was-craigslist-whore

4
Audacia Ray
9.16.10
12:37 pm

@Trixie – absolutely! And the best thing about those stats is that they weren’t hard to find, because they are from major orgs that are well respected and put sex trafficking in the context of LABOR.

@TBK I agree that there are many great alternatives to CL, however – I think it should be an option for people who want to use it. Giving up on the fight on the grounds that it’s not that great sets a bad precedent.

5

[...] Band Aids, Saving Face, and Endangering Sex Workers: The Craigslist Saga | Waking Vixen – Removing online spaces for this community building, which often starts with advertising, drives independent workers underground and forces them to rely on groups that do not have their best interests at heart. [...]

6
Antioch
10.3.10
10:50 pm

Jack the Ripper was never captured and neither was he punished for killing whores.

If he was sent to hell after he died then that would be justice served. Good thing there is a prison for lawless hypocrites. A payday! wages for sin.

“The harlot’s pathways lead straight to hell. Down to the chambers of death” – Proverbs 7

“Whores God will judge” – Hebrews 13

7
ash
10.7.10
6:23 am

Antioch, you hypocrite. Christ absolved a woman caught in adultery. Sex workers have not even broken any vows. If anything, it should be married male customers who face your condemnation. The sexist bigotry you display in condemning only women (unmarried women, free to do as they choose) while ignoring those who violate wedding vows is one of many reasons why the liberated community shun God.

John 8

A Woman Caught in Adultery

1. Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives,

2. but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.

3. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

4. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

6. They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.

7. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”

8. Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.

10. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11. “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

You agreed with the Pharisees of the passage above. Let me remind you how Jesus spoke of the Pharisees (you included).

Matthew 12:34

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

Matthew 23:33

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

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