Noah Berlatsky continues to be a real ally here, giving space to and amplifying the voices of actual sex workers and their research.
As always, embedded links that you really need to read if you’re interested in sex work activism/being an ally to sex workers, at the link! ESPECIALLY read Tara’s work. And remember that Portland is a part of the latest suits agains backpage, while Seattle is just one of several cities currently experimenting with implementing End Demand. Talk to your friends and family, write letters to the editor and op-eds, I can help you with the latter and with sources if you need. Please don’t stand silently by and watch as it happens.
Terra Burns, the author of a report on sex work in Alaska, says that closing outlets like Backpage.com puts women more at risk. “I don’t think that getting rid of advertising mediums is helpful to anybody,” Burns says. “It’s harmful to people who are doing sex work at the most survival level, who can’t afford more expensive advertising venues and are forced out on the street. And it’s harmful for sex trafficking victims who are also potentially forced out onto the street.”“Those are the people who are affected the most by this kind of thing,” Burns added. “It’s not some evil sex trafficker, because he … can deal with changes in the market.”
Backpage is currently being sued by some trafficking victims for contributing to their exploitation. Yet many law enforcement officials admit, reluctantly, that Backpage is actually very helpful in their work catching sex traffickers. Clearwater, Florida, Police Chief Anthony Holloway, for example, declared that Backpage “needs to be shut down” while contradictorily acknowledging that “it’s a good investigative tool for us right now for trafficking.” He also admitted that, if the site were shut down, advertisers would simply move to other, less regulated venues.
Mistress Matisse, a Seattle dominatrix and sex-worker rights advocate, agrees that Kirk’s bill would neither stop traffickers nor help victims. “To the extent that they actually exist, actual traffickers will just advertise elsewhere, or put people on the street,” Matisse says. “And people just trying to get money for food and shelter will have to resort to even more dangerous means as well.” Matisse argues that “if Kirk really wants to help people, he should be fighting for more anti-poverty programs and homeless shelters, especially teenage homeless programs.”
Burns suggests that lawmakers look at “coercion by police officers” and discrimination in accessing public services. “In my survey a lot of [sex workers] were discriminated against in accessing shelter,” she said, “but of the people who were sex trafficking victims, 100 percent of them were denied emergency shelter.”
The survey didn’t provide detailed information about why victims had trouble with the shelters, but some respondents did tell Burns that they were turned away because of where they met the people they were seeking shelter from (presumably, while selling sexual services). Burns comments, “when someone’s a sex-trafficking victim and they’re seeking emergency shelter, and you deny them that shelter, you’re most likely causing them to continue to be sex trafficked.”
It’s notable that both Burns and Matisse offer solutions aimed at empowering victims, rather than a villain to scapegoat. If you want to help marginalized people, you need to stop marginalizing them, not talk of rescue while driving victims—and their abusers—further underground.
Decent treatment for stigmatized populations does’t fit easily into a heroic narrative, however. So instead, Kirk bravely goes after Backpage. It’s almost like the real crime here is not trafficking, but visibility. Sex workers who can’t advertise are sex workers you can’t see—which makes it easier to portray them all as victims in need of heroes.
Oregon politicians take note.