Sex workers have used the internet over the last decade to carve out some independence, safety, and community in their work. For many, advertising online is a form of harm reduction — a way to choose how to work and whom to work with. To lose online ads means different things to different sex workers: For some, it means losing the equivalent of a paycheck, and for others, it will lead to losing control over their jobs, if not losing their jobs altogether.
Friday evening, as it became clear that backpage.com was gone, I began contacting sex workers from across the United States: from a range of backgrounds, types of sex work, and years of work experience. Here are some of their stories, in their own words, as told to me on Saturday, April 7, and Sunday, April 8, 2018.
On finding out backpage.com was shut down
Trinity Collins (27, African-American trans woman working in New Orleans): How did I find out Backpage was shut down? I like to use the term “How did I find out I was fired?”
Simone (20, Middle Eastern/North African cis woman working in New York City): I was on the J train on my way to meet up with some other sex workers in the city, when I got this very frantic phone call from a friend. “Hey, I just tried to post up my ad on Backpage and I got this pop-up, do you know what’s going on?” And then immediately she just started sobbing on the phone.
Glenn Spence (37, white cis woman working in New England): I was in this motel room that I’m in right now, this exact same motel room, actually. I was freaking out because when I logged onto the site, the only payment option was in cryptocurrency.
Harpy Anna (29, white, “Female/Politically Queer,” working in Chicago): Way before I was ever an escort, I had looked on Backpage just to see what was going on on there. There was always Backpage. Then, one day it just disappears?
Sarah (30s, white and Jewish cis woman, living in Michigan): I found out on Twitter that Backpage shut down – almost two years after I left survival sex work. Backpage helped keep me safe during one of the scariest, most dangerous times of my entire life. Being homeless and under the control of an abusive man who needed an illegal substance to stay semi-functional was scary. Backpage was the best option I had for people who would give me money, so I could stay alive.