(Photo by Flickr user quinn anya)

(Photo by Flickr user quinn anya)

Content warning: this piece contains discussion of sexual violence.

By now, most reading this are probably familiar with Mary Mitchell’s Chicago Sun-Times column in which she editorializes that sex workers are responsible if they are raped, for they willingly put themselves “at risk for harm”—as if the rape of a sex worker is an occupational hazard much the way a lifeguard should expect to get wet. I would expect this type of pettiness in an anonymous online comment, not from a seasoned and respected columnist on the payroll of a major newspaper. While the views in Mitchell’s column are not rare, it is troubling to see them endorsed by the Sun-Times, suggesting the paper is more concerned with publishing a sensational, illogical, and callous opinion than it is with the harm done by reinforcing such stigma.

Mary Mitchell grew up in Chicago housing projects, and she is considered by many as an authority on race relations in Chicago. One would think Mitchell would be sympathetic to the marginalized depictions sex workers face in the media. It’s disappointing that a prominent journalist who has worked hard to call attention to inequity in her city would so eagerly discount the violent rape of a sex worker as a mere “theft of services.”

I suppose her daftness on the subject of sex work shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a column earlier this summer, Mitchell gushed over anti-Backpage lobbyist and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s letter to Visa and MasterCard asking the credit card companies to block payments to the sex work advertising website. Mitchell also repeatedly mentions Backpage in her recent column. Her use of a quote from Dart is disconcerting: “They go on the Website and meet at a hotel or people’s houses. Things can get very volatile,” he tells her, keeping in line with a victim-blaming narrative framing assaults against sex workers all too often. One has to wonder if Mitchell would have found it worthwhile to write on this crime at all if shutting down Backpage wasn’t such an important crusade for Tom Dart. Is the rape victim sex worker somehow more blameworthy in Mitchell’s eyes because she advertised on a website that has come under so much scrutiny? Hardly a week goes by in which the Sun-Times doesn’t give coverage to Dart and his war on sex work, never failing to mention Backpage. In contrast, commentators elsewhere, including editorialists at the city’s other daily paper, the Chicago Tribune, criticize the sheriff for far exceeding his authority.



(Screenshot of Backpage's July 10th email to users)

(Screenshot of Backpage’s July 10th e-mail to users)

Update: Backpage filed a federal suit today against Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart for violating its free speech and equal protection rights after the Sheriff successfully pressured credit card companies to break with the company this month. In the suit, Backpage requests a preliminary injury, so that credit card processing will be restored to the site immediately; compensation for loss of revenue from credit card transactions this month; and punitive damages.

Free posting

Earlier this month, Backpage responded to American Express, Mastercard, and Visa’s disallowal of charges for adult services ads by offering free posting in that section. In an e-mail to users on July 10th, Backpage informed posters that they can move their ads to the top of the listings for free every 24 hours. Each additional posting within that 24 hours will cost a dollar. A good portion of the mainstream media is characterizing this move as reactionary. An example: “ thumbs nose at sheriff [Tom Dart, the Illinois Cook County anti-trafficking zealot who wrote a letter to Mastercard and Visa this month prompting their actions],” as the USA Today headline put it, but many sex workers believe this is the least Backpage can do for them during this difficult time in return for earning $22 million dollars of revenue annually from our escort ads.

However, Katherine Koster of the Sex Worker Outreach Project noted that some sex workers are still having trouble with the new system. For one thing, it seems the free posting is only a privilege granted to those who’d posted a paid ad recently, before the Visa and Mastercard fiasco began. “Other people have shared issues around…not being able to post at all,” Koster told Tits and Sass via a Facebook message.

“Every single day, they [Backpage] keep changing shit, other shit randomly doesn’t work, and it is getting incredibly frustrating to use,” Australian escort Sarah summed up on her tumblr.

Backpage itself specified in its e-mail to users that:

Free and paid ads initially post into the same section and sort by date. After a grace period, free ads change position to the Additional Ads section below the paid ads.

Many adult services posters have found that their free ads become inaccessible to clients quickly after being shunted into the Additional Ads section, far from the top of the ad queue where postings garner the most notice. On July 9th, Sarah wrote that she’d “been having problems all day with some of my Backpage free ads disappearing into the ether, showing as live but not being visible in the category listings.”



Did this promo code work for you? Let us know! (image via

Did this promo code work for you? Let us know! (image via

This week, after an informal request from a law enforcement officer, Visa and MasterCard announced that they would no longer let their cards be used to process payments to, the most widely used site for adult advertising in the United States. American Express had already pulled out earlier in the year. This leaves Bitcoin and prepaid Vanilla Visa gift cards as the only ways to pay for advertising on the site.

Like many ostensible anti-trafficking efforts, this will do very little to actually affect human trafficking. It will, however, impact free speech, and serve to make many sex workers’ lives more difficult. [READ MORE]


The Devil's Auction, J. Gurney & Son (studio), part of the Charles H. McCaghy Collection of Exotic Dance from Burlesque to Clubs

The Devil’s Auction, J. Gurney & Son (studio), part of the Charles H. McCaghy Collection of Exotic Dance from Burlesque to Clubs

The Ohio State University has made a slew of classic images from the Charles H. McCaghy Collection of Exotic Dance From Burlesque to Clubs available online. Let us take inspiration for future outfits from it.

Bad boys! Whatcha gon, whatcha gon, whatcha gon do? That awkward moment when the chief of police gets arrested for soliciting a prostitute.

Strip club regulations are so weird. San Diego police raided a strip club to check for “business permits and work cards.” The raid concludes with police officers taking invasive photographs of the dancers. So, what are the dancers going to do? They’re going to sue their asses, that’s what. And a second club has come forward to complain about the SPD’s tactics.

Tits and Sass contributor Tara Burns helps New Inquiry readers figure out if they’ve been sex trafficked in this handy dandy quiz.  So glad we can further simplify the choice/coercion dichotomy in time for April 1st!

Ex-call girl/madam Maggie Mcneill eviscerates the Urban Institute “study” on prostitution in the Washington Post: “Lies, Damned Lies, And Sex Work Statistics.”

People Magazine profiles Rajib Boy, a Kolkatan sex worker’s son selected to participate in a Manchester United soccer training camp in England: “I am not ashamed of being a sex worker’s son…[My mother] is my main source of inspiration.” The article goes into how Indian sex workers’ rights organization Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee coaches local Kolkatan children and holds a soccer tournament every two years with children participating from over fifty different red light districts around the country.

A former basketball coach accused of sex trafficking was freed after a month in jail because prosecutors concluded he had been entrapped by police. Gee, some of us wish we had that defense available to us when we were arrested by undercover cops posing as clients!

Wah wah. Honolulu police can’t have sex with prostitutes anymore after all.



Portland's vegan eatery turned strip club, Casa Diablo (Google street view)

Portland’s vegan eatery turned strip club, Casa Diablo (Google street view)

Equality Now and other abolitionist groups campaigned against the UN’s recommendation to decriminalize sex work. Don’t read the articles linked unless you have a strong stomach. Melissa Gira Grant documented a particularly exasperating twitter exchange with Equality Now’s Rachel Moran on her blog, in which Moran claimed that “‘sex workers’ don’t exist.” Scott Long also provides some valuable context.

The New York Times belatedly discovers camming. Sadly, the article feels the need to quote Kathryn Griffin. Luckily, Sienna Baskin of the Sex Workers Project is also on hand to lend some perspective.

Stoya gives her two cents about the Great Porn Condom Debate in Vice Magazine.

The law firm of Outten and Golden LLP just filed a lawsuit on behalf of dancers against the strip clubs New York Dolls, Flashdancers and Private Eyes. Dancers who have worked at these clubs and want to join the lawsuit should call Outten and Golden at 212-245-1000.

Of course you want to know how weird government regulations led to Portland’s vegan strip club.

Sex workers created a twitter phenomenon this week with the hashtag #banfreebies, satirizing societal attitudes about sex work by flipping them around and using them to moralize against non-transactional sex: “Freebies think being a freebie is empowering or it’s their choice. But that’s just false consciousness.”

African sex workers’ rights group SWEAT alerted local police that a group of about thirty five children, aged nine to twelve, were being kept in a brothel in Guateng.  But when the police finally decided to act on the report they went to the wrong house. By the time they figured out this blunder and went to the correct address, there were no children on site.

New York will establish a special court for sex trafficking and prostitution. Perhaps the court will offer better options than incarceration, but Lori Adorable responds on her tumblr, saying, “Providing more social services for individuals in the sex industry who are there by force, coercion, or choice would be fabulous, but that’s not what happening here…You mean to say that the criminal (in)justice system will FORCE those in the sex industry into treatment, rehab, and other lines of work while denying them any agency they do have. Doesn’t sound so compassionate anymore, does it? Sounds more like the fascist, racist ‘social hygiene’ shit that it is.”

A stripping history is apparently no obstacle to a security clearance.