Jump to. LGBTQ activists, civil liberties advocates, sex workers, and their allies together on a protest against the indictment of Jeffrey Hurant and Rentboy. Over the past 20 years, the internet has changed the age-old profession of sex work in major ways. Sex workers labor in an intensely hostile cultural climate.
Due to the illegal nature of their jobs, they are vulnerable to rape, murder, theft, and police violence. In recent years, sex workers have used the internet to make their jobs safer: They use websites to screen clients and have private forums to provide support and knowledge to each other. Like any other entrepreneur or small business owner, those providing sexual services use industry-specific websites to advertise and promote their services. Human trafficking and sexual slavery are, of course, absolutely heinous crimes.
Ending trafficking and raising awareness about the violence that creates trafficking is crucial. However, the sweeping raids of sex work websites have threatened the well-being of many who consensually sell sexual services. This January as part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness month, the mayor of Boston and the attorney general of Massachusetts co-hosted an event called hacktrafficking4socialgood.
These digital tools are meant prevent trafficking, but online security measures like these would put consensual sex workers in a bad position. The climate of fear created by online stings pushes the sex market even further underground, where isolation and invisibility make workers easy targets for violence.
Heavy-handed online surveillance measures also push bonafide trafficking victims further from our view, making it more difficult for them to be identified and assisted. In Seattle last month, law enforcement used digital tools in an anti-trafficking sting.
Freeing women from sexual slavery is definitely a noble task. But whether the women caught up in this bust were actually victims is an uncertain truth. She expressed concern about the website bust, saying that many consensual sex workers relied on The Review Board to safely advertise for clients. While any instance of forced prostitution merits a response, there are alternative means to advocate for the rights of trafficked sex slaves.
Consensually working adult service providers—who share massage parlors, strip clubs, and in-call locations with potential victims—are in the best position to survey their environments for plausible criminal activity.
Seeking their input could more effectively and directly confront the real issue of victims being coerced into the sex trade. For example, last year, utilizing input from sex workers Oregon set up a statewide hotline for strip club employees to report workplace problems and potential abuse.
As a result of online raids and website closures, workers lose the ability to mediate transactions through the internet and are forced to negotiate on the street, where they are more likely to suffer harassment and violence. InCraigslist was forced to close its adult services section under pressure from attorneys general and anti-trafficking organizations who claimed it promoted child sex slavery. Instead, the business moved to sites like myredbook.
Accused of money laundering and racketeering prostitution, myredbook. That website, local to the Bay Area, featured a forum where workers could discuss blacklisted clients and safety strategies and was, at the time, the only free online advertising venue for female workers.
Backon the other hand, in an anomalous but remarkable lawsuit, was able to push off law enforcement by noting that third-party publishers cannot be held able for reviewing every post for legality.
Back frequently works with law enforcement by flagging suspected cases of actual trafficking—an example of the ways in which cooperating with the industry, rather than penalizing it, may be an effective means to terminating sex slavery for good. When these websites are targeted, workers spooked by lurking law enforcement may turn to the street, where the immediacy of such interactions makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to screen clients.
Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University professor who studies prostitution and web-based black markets, told Wired that in wake of myredbook. Sex worker supporters in the Pride Parade in New York.
It can also be harder for street workers to negotiate condom usage. In this climate of fear, workers may be more likely to seek the support of a potentially abusive third party to assist in arranging their work. Thus, the possibility for trafficking, rape, and murder of sex workers can actually rise with the heavy-handed monitoring and closure of these websites.
It is an understatement to say that the use of hypervigilant security practices on industry websites does more harm than good. The issue is rooted in our globalized economy, which demands increasingly flexible, low-cost, and unprotected laborers.
According to the International Labor Organization, only 11 percent of trafficking victims are part of the sex trade. Internationally, forced labor is a huge problem in more mundane industries like fishing, mining, and farming.
Putting an end to human trafficking requires a response that takes into those systemic problems—not just busting website after website. Creating legal passages to citizenship for working class migrants would, for example, open up a legal and safe means for workers to enter the country without seeking the help of a trafficker, which, due to our heavily restrictive immigration system, is often the only option.
At the same time, if we were to remove the penalties associated with consensual sex worksex workers would be able to report exploitation, violence, unsafe working conditions, and instances of trafficking to law enforcement.
If well-intentioned people want to hack the world to make it safer for trafficking victims, finding ways to support sex worker rights, decriminalization of consensual sex work, and comprehensive immigration reform are good places to start. Deing tools for law enforcement to crack down on the websites sex workers use to make their jobs safer will only push vulnerable people further underground. Holiday Black is a freelance writer and poet living in Brooklyn, NY.
Her work focuses on intersectional feminism, pop-culture, queer issues, and sex workers rights.
She is the assistant artistic director of Gemstone Readings, an online gallery space and femme-centric reading series in NYC. You can find more at her website, www. Get Bitch Media's top 9 re of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning!
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