Last week’s seizure of Backpage is a disaster for the health and safety of consensual sex workers. The closure of a major advertising space, one where legitimate clients could be screened, means that thousands of sex workers across the country will be forced into increasingly dangerous workplaces, with fewer rights, fewer resources and fewer ways to protect themselves.
The closure of Backpage shows that the federal government’s War on Sex work is just getting started. We were told for months that the government needed the expanded powers of SESTA/FOSTA specifically so they could pursue Backpage. It was never true. The law hasn’t been signed, let alone gone into effect. The Department of Justice was able to seize Backpage just fine without it.
When SESTA/FOSTA does go into effect, the adult industry will face a DOJ with expanded powers, and an expanded mission. The DOJ never needed those powers for Backpage — but the powers will allow them to shut down other consensual sex work sites: cam sites, clips sites, porn sites, dating sites, and any site that provides resources for sex workers.
Friday, we saw SWOP Sacramento, a direct services and advocacy organization by and for sex workers, suspend its operations. The legal risk of providing basic safeguards like condoms or legal rights pamphlets was too much for the organization to ask its volunteers to bear.
These attacks, and these pullbacks, disproportionately affect those among us with the fewest resources or financial ballast, and the least amount of recourse — the poor, the LGBTQ, the gender non-conforming, and people of color.
We can not overemphasize the dire situation that faces sex workers locally and nationally, nor the risk to free expression that we face as an industry. The adult industry needs to stand together, to stand with its workers, and those who work in the sex industry more broadly. They have come for the most vulnerable among us today, but they will not stop there.
Sex workers need your support now, and they need your voice. Do support sex worker organizations — like SWOP and ESPLERP and St. James Infirmary and Desiree Alliance, to name but a few — financially, but equally important, speak out publicly. On social media, at work, in conversation with family. Not everyone understands these issues as implicitly as we do. Not everyone knows that they know a sex worker. You do. Do not be silent.
The lives of our workers, friends and families depend on it.