When people who sell sex are kicked off online platforms where we advertise and communicate, we lose a crucial tool that allows us to screen potential clients. When sites remove our ads, sex workers are pushed into working on the street, which is often more dangerous (especially for those who are new to it) and more precarious – and by increasing sex workers’ visibility, leaves them more vulnerable to arrest. People reach out to third parties: if you can no longer find clients by putting up an ad, you might seek out a manager or associate who can find you clients. Taking away our ability to advertise – while ostensibly aimed at tackling exploitation – often, paradoxically, pushes sex workers into exploitative relationships.
The law that the Sunday Times praised goes even further. In widely expanding who can go after websites associated with commercial sex, it will intensify the criminalisation of sites that host harm reduction tools such as “ugly mugs” or “bad date” lists, which carry information on violent clients. (Sites that host this information in the US are already under siege.) The anti-trafficking advocate Kate D’Adamo, who has worked for harm reduction organisations in New York for many years, writes that the law will “undermine almost every single thing I would tell people for how to stay alive. All screening, all peer references, all bad date lists I could send.” In criminalising the ways that sex workers try to stay safe, such a law will see more sex workers harmed.