An image chronicling the history of the multi-year war on Backpage. (Photo by PJ Starr, 2012)

An image chronicling the history of the multi-year war on Backpage. (Photo by PJ Starr, 2012)

It’s happening again.

I remember the drop in my stomach as my browser opened on the homepage of MyRedBook in 2014 and I saw the emblems of the FBI, DOJ, and the IRS occupying a page which used to host an escort ad, review, and forum website used by thousands of providers across the West Coast. It was at that moment when I realized what the stakes in the war on sex trafficking truly were. Two years after Prop 35 passed in California, broadening the definition of trafficker to anyone “who is supported in part or in whole from the earnings of a prostitute”, and four years after the multi-year battle against Craigslist resulted in its Adult section being taken down, it was clear: sex workers’ ability to advertise online was going to be taken out from under us.

At the time, I worked at St. James Infirmary providing healthcare services to current and former sex workers. Over the next several months, I witnessed people being flung into economic turmoil. A lot of the community talked to me about going back into the street or going there for the first time. Others tried to pack into strip clubs, where their money was split by management, or focus on porn—also under attack by the state through Prop 60. Some people successfully moved their business onto other more costly or exclusive advertising platforms. And some people left the business altogether, either to new forms of income or to try to exist on the scraps of government support available to the unemployed.

I saw the closure of MyRedBook increase stratification within the industry, widening the gap between those sex workers able to appeal to the more elite clientele of other websites and those who had to move onto the street and deal with the violence of being outside.

Eventually, Backpage, relatively unused in the Bay Area prior to the RedBook seizure, garnered enough web traffic that it became the website for those of us who want to work independently and inside, but don’t have the body, gender, or class presentation desired by the majority of clients looking at websites such as Eros, Slixa, and Seeking Arrangements. It is especially utilized by folks living outside urban metropolises, where other advertising platforms, if they exist, are largely unused. TS Blair, a friend of mine who works in the South, says:

As a transgender woman working in a small city, BackPage is the only resource for sex work outside of the street for so many bodies. You go on Eros, it’s exclusively white cis women on there. If BackPage shuts down, so many of us will have nowhere else to go.

And now, in the wake of Backpage’s CEO Carl Ferrer being arrested Thursday on felony pimping charges, what does the future hold for sex workers dependent on Backpage for survival? While some are already established on other sites and venues or are able to float on their savings for a while, many are left waiting to see if their only source of income will disappear, eliminated by law enforcement hell bent on “rescuing” them.

The specifics of if, when, and how Backpage will be stripped of its erotic services section are unclear. Unlike MyRedBook and, more recently, Rentboy, Backpage has not been seized as a company. The company that owns the website, Atlantische Bedrijven CV, is based in Denmark, where prostitution is legalized. Civil liberties experts agree that in the US, the Communications Decency Act protects online service providers from being held liable for third party posts, and Backpage’s legal counsel told the Guardian that the site intends to fight what it calls “frivolous prosecution.”

Still, there is currently no substantial information available on the future of the website, so all there is to do is wait. The political landscape seems unfavorable, especially considering this week’s news about Rentboy CEO Jeffrey Hurant pleading guilty to charges of promoting prostitution. Many of us question what comes next.



A recent screenshot, before the raid.

A recent screenshot, before the raid.

Tuesday morning, Homeland Security and Brooklyn police raided the offices of, arresting its CEO and several current and former workers, seizing six bank accounts, and freezing the website in what the U.S. Department of Justice’s press release bragged was a raid on the “largest online male escort service.”

Coming right on the heels of Amnesty International’s controversial and much talked about decriminalization policy, the raid was a shock to many in the sex work world. Law enforcement agencies appear to be turning their eyes on sex work advertising services in North America, from the crackdowns on Backpage and Redbook, to Canada’s new anti-sex work law—the Protecting Communities and Exploited Persons Act—which includes provisions banning the advertisement of sexual services.

According to the release, it took a crack team of detectives and the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Field Office to work out that despite’s claim that the site only facilitated companionship, it was actually advertising sex. “As alleged, profited from the promotion of prostitution despite their claim that their advertisements were not for sexual services,” said New York Police Commissioner Wiliam Bratton in the press release.

Reading the press release, I was immediately struck by its use of rhetoric. Unlike official statements around the crackdowns on Backpage and similar services that are known primarily for advertising cis women sex workers, no mention is made of Rentboy aiding the nefarious work of sex traffickers. As well, unlike in most sex work raids, no mention is made of anti-trafficking organizations reaching out to supposed “victims.” It is a loud and curious omission given that police find it impossible to talk about sex work at all these days without discussing trafficking.




(Via HIPS' Facebook page)

(Via HIPS’ Facebook page, courtesy of HIPS)

HIPS is seeking donations for their new stationary space! HIPS’ mobile outreach program, now over 20 years old, is expanding into a brick-and-mortar location which will offer medical, mental health, and drug treatment services as well as their usual harm reduction, advocacy, and community services.

A new take on a tired trend: in this new “John school,” unfortunate clients read poetry and look at art by sex workers as part of a process of viewing them as victims exploited human beings.

The latest entry in the growing file of Strippers’ Court Cases finds that yes, pregnant strippers can be sexy and thus pregnancy is not viable grounds for termination. Heya! Read the opinion here.

Sex worker activists and advocates from SWOP, Desiree Alliance, and Best Practices Policy Project are in Switzerland at the UN Human Rights Council, to present a report on the US’s failure to protect sex workers’ human rights.

In the least nuanced or ethical argument for End Demand yet, someone at the Zimbabwe National Aids Council suggested End Demand as a way to curb the spread of HIV.  Rich men spread HIV, apparently, and

The best way is to stop these men from paying for sex first. From there on we will work with the sex workers by empowering them through various initiatives that stop them from visiting beer outlets.



sexcriticReview boards aren’t for us. They’re for sad, sad clients to commiserate with each other and get back some of the power they feel they’ve lost by having to pay for sex in the first place. But I didn’t always know that. Once upon a time, I was a review board junkie. That only lasted until I forgot the reason I was there in the first place (to make money,) forgot that everything you post is essentially an advertisement, and started being a little too vocal about my opinions.

I complained about a thread entitled “Best Asses On [That Particular Board],” writing that it was problematic for these clients to post photos of escorts without their permission—taken from their websites or from their photo albums on the board—and that reducing us to bits and pieces was dehumanizing. I was met with many defensive responses from clients claiming that this thread (and others like it) were simply celebrating the female body. I replied, “I’ll believe you when you start posting some fat asses.” (Because believe me, you are never going to see a BBW escort in any of these stupid threads.) A few of us started trolling the thread by posting male asses and monkey butts. That’s when some of the so-called “elite” members—they have more than 1000 posts—started to complain that the site “wasn’t what it used to be” and boo-hoo, the women are talking when they should be sucking cock. (Ok, they didn’t literally say that, but that was the message they conveyed.) One day, I logged on to discover I had been suspended without warning for six months. [READ MORE]


Image from NabbCafe

Image from NabbCafe

Sex workers are a profoundly diverse group of individuals, with wildly different backgrounds, circumstances, and work tactics. But I’ve been around the block enough times to know that within this corner of our lives, our experiences often coincide. On a near-daily basis, I recognize another escort displaying the signs of an attitude I too once held. So without further ado, here are five common hooker states of mind that I suspect most of you will recognize, in others if not in yourself.

Everyone Must Know — The most embarrassing, cringe-inducing mindset is also one of the earliest to appear among a subset of privileged, politicized, very young sex workers. Think about the worst qualities of most middle class college kids: their naiveté, which they’re (naively) convinced is actually a very sophisticated and hard-earned understanding of the world; their youthful earnestness; their awkward, hyper-self aware social skills or lack thereof. Throw in a job at the local strip club/jack shack/full service incall and it’s a recipe for humiliating disaster. I was convinced that I could single handedly eliminate at least, like, 50% of the stigma around sex work by making it clear that I — a white, educated, intelligent young woman! — was selling sexual services and was TOTALLY EMOTIONALLY FINE and THRIVING and indeed, STILL WHITE AND EDUCATED in spite of it.