Home News The Eros Raid Means None of Us Are Safe

The Eros Raid Means None of Us Are Safe

Three days ago, Eros-Guide’s call center in Youngsville, North Carolina, was raided by the Department of Homeland Security. On Tuesday morning at 10:30 AM, a dozen black government vehicles converged on parent company Bolma Star Service’s office and data center, beginning a search and seizure operation that would last into the night. They confiscated computers, documents, and servers. The search warrant is sealed in federal court, with officials offering no comment on the investigation besides the fact that it is an active investigation. All DHS agents will say is that they are often assigned to crossborder cases involving money laundering, cybercrime, and human trafficking. So we have no idea what their probable cause even is. No arrests have been made yet, or charges filed. But collectively, we sex workers shudder with that familiar fear: we’re witnessing yet another instance of an ominous multi-year pattern, from Craigslist to MyRedBook to Rentboy to Backpage, of our advertising platforms being raided or pressured out of existence.

Once again, some of us are left in desperate suspense, waiting to see if our business models are about to be disrupted; if we’re going to be left in economic turmoil. Sure, eros.com and the other Eros subsidiary sites are still up for the moment, but how secure are they to conduct business over now?

Over the past few years, Eros has required progressively more revealing ID checks in order to confirm advertisers are of age. Now those IDs, including those of migrant and undocumented sex workers, are in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. Sure, if they use this evidence at all, the feds will probably just focus on those of us they can construe as traffickers—sex workers who own incalls for the use of other sex workers, for example. There’s probably no reason for most Eros users to panic about this. Still, having your real name, address, and ID number in the hands of DHS is a nightmare scenario in a profession where our survival depends on our anonymity.

When it comes down to it, though, as many Eros workers pointed out on social media, they’re more worried about being homeless than about the government having that information.

The rest of us look on with empathy, knowing that any day, we could be next. We all try not to think about how tenuous and transitory our ways of doing business are so that we can go through our days without feeling the paralyzing economic terror hitting many of us now. But when something like this happens, it’s difficult to avoid that hard fact.

When Backpage caved to government pressure and shut down its adult ads earlier this year, some middle and upper class escorts felt immune. They felt that the higher prices they were charged for ads on Eros and Slixa meant they were paying for security. They acquiesced to the ID checks those services innovated, trading in their anonymity for the hope that now their advertising platforms couldn’t be accused of trafficking minors the way Backpage has been. (Not that the ID submissions weren’t foisted upon them as one of an array of very few options.) But now that Eros has been hit, our higher end counterparts must recognize that none of us are safe. No matter what security measures we take, no matter how many layers of privilege might mitigate our grey market or black market status, at any point, criminalization can strip us of all of them and leave us economically and legally exposed.

It seems like a million thinkpieces are posted each month by oh-so-insightful journalists on how fascinating it is that the sex industry has changed with the internet. (These articles always seem to carry a whiff of condescension that reminds me of Samuel Johnson’s comment on reactions in his era to women writing, comparing it to the way people marvel at a dog walking on its hind legs—“Not that it is done well, but that it is done at all.”) And it’s an old truism among those more in the know that porn is always the first innovator of new tech. What these observations miss out on is why sex workers are always on the tech front line. It’s because we always have to stay ahead of the encroaching wave of legal and social pressure cutting off our older avenues of operation.

Financial services like Paypal and Greendot and Squarecash refuse to do business with us and cut off our accounts? Fine, we’ll go Bitcoin where we can. Craigslist adult ads get shut down? Fine, our demand will create Backpage and Eros and Slixa. Or hey, we’ll get on apps or even use the sugarbaby model and get on SeekingArrangement. Backpage adult ads get shut down? Fine, lower-end escorts move our ads to the BP “dating” section with a wink and a nudge.

We’re canny, flexible, and adaptive, and yet, they always catch up to us. The various arms of state enforcement will always have more resources than we do. (And of course, this fluidity is harder to come by in the first place if you’re “niche”–a person of color, a trans woman, a migrant, a disabled person, or many or all of those things.) Then, where everyone else just sees an interesting crime story with a touch of the salacious among their morning news links, we hear a death knell. We prepare ourselves to have to cut corners and make less, or make nothing, or take even more risks to make anything at all—which is saying something for a population already so vulnerable to violence.

And that’s the way it’s going to keep going for us until the mainstream finally sees our struggle for the labor movement of marginalized people that it is. Until then, all we have is each other.

Please feel free to link any fundraising measures being taken for Eros workers that you know of in the comments section.

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I'm a small town escort and activist, with purely *academic* interest in drugs and madness (because identity politics are so passe). I've been escorting low-end on and off for fifteen years, and haven't gotten sex worker burnout quite yet. I'm a co-editor here at Tits and Sass, and you can also find my writing at The Forward, HTMLGiant, the emilybooks tumblr, the Red Umbrella Project's literary magazine Prose and Lore volume 4, in a couple of issues of make/shift magazine, and in the anthology Eros & Thanatos. I wrote a series of pieces on drug-using sex workers for the Influence, a new drug journalism site, and those pieces have been reposted in Vice, Alternet, Raw Story, and refinery29, among other sites. I also have experience in the mad movement, the harm reduction movement, and the low-income rights movement. I fundraise for and am a member of a local street-worker-led sex worker harm reduction task force/support & organizing group as well as the local safe injection facility task force of New England Users' Union.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, Caty. Yes, we are so resourceful and adaptive. But how much longer can we continue to dance around an increasingly intolerant and invasive government? They have unlimited resources and there’s always plenty of americans willing to sell their souls for a paycheck, even if it means becoming another stormtrooper. Our current administration is hell bent on “eradicating” all “unacceptable” types. This not only includes sex workers, but transgender and gay folks, and anything else that isn’t a “god fearing, upright citizen.” It’s going to get much, much worse. There is nothing as evil as “righteousness”.

  2. The true irony of it all being that its probably not “most” of law enforcement even behind this. Seem, from resent articles I have read, that the DA’s offices seem to have been granted carte blanche control over who gets prosecuted, and are behind pushing “most” of the legislation for everything from 3 strikes laws to more severe penalties to those arrested, to.. you name it. Sure, their ability to do this may be driven by fanatics in other branches, but they seem to have decided to become magistrate, judge, jury and executioner. Magistrate in this case meaning they are “creating” the law for which they then decide if they will charge you. Result – no reform to the justice system, just as there is no reform to anything else, because **no one is listening to the people**. One has to wonder just how many of these new laws, and attacks, are driven, just like so much else that has mangled the justice system in the US, is being driven, heavily, by DA interference.

  3. I’m sorry… shouldn’t the D HS be busy, busy, busy – preventing (or enacting) mass shoot ings and prospective foreign and domestic terror ist attacks and staying prepared for natural disasters, with all the resources funded by American tax-dollars, that ‘we the have no say-so people’ delegated them into an agency for, so as to protect our home land, promote our freedoms, and predominately keep us safe?

    So… to deduce a chain of logic then… if this agency’s objective is to secure the home land from prospective acts of foreign and domestic terrorism and mass casualties, to aid citizens in the event of natural disasters, keeping our over all safety in mind, while attempting to round up (the now high-end) consenting adults related to the sex work industry (the opposite of trafficking), then we can only conclude that WE (me, you, us) are a prioritized, most dangerous breed of criminals, alike those of the F B I ‘s most want ed list. …Except when we are sentenced, it’s generally for longer.

    That I am so dangerous and an absolute threat to every civilian around me, bears heavy on my soul. But thanks to this Dept, Americans can feel safe once again, knowing that their protecting, trusting gov t has made catching criminals like us a main priority, in the greatest nation on Earth!

    Hide ja’ kids hide ja’ wives… ’cause we screwin’ er’body up in here!

  4. I just want to express the love and high level of respect I have for all of my sisters who work south of the border… Every single last one of you are role models for your courage. It takes a mighty strong person to survive in sex work when the environment is one of general support, but you girls refuse to be pushed out in what has to be one of, if not the most toxic environment on the entire planet.

    Whether you realize it or not, you are heroes. Thank you for your service.

    I’m a thirty-four year old Canadian female. I’ve worked as a full-time independent escort in Victoria, British Columbia since June 2012. Prior to sex work, I served ten years as an Avionics Systems Technician in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

    Having had my fill of being away from home and all of the other stressors which inevitably come with the military lifestyle, I decided to follow one of my passions… I’d always had a burning desire to become a sex worker. I was twenty-eight, and had undergone breast enhancement surgery a month earlier. Figuring I was running out of chances, I staffed my release request up the chain of command… effectively closing one chapter of my life, and beginning an exciting new chapter.

    Now, more than five years later, I am happy to report that I have never regretted my decision once! Sex work has lived up to my every expectation. Better yet, very few of the fears I had have actually materialized. I’ve had many thousand dates, and only one of them went bad. It went very bad, actually… but guess what? I love what I do, and there was no way that mother**cker was changing that fact.

    That is one time I drew strength from all of you. American sex workers set an example for all of us who have it so much easier. Here in Canada, we receive the full support of most major law enforcement outlets. This is especially true here in Victoria… but still, I was too ashamed to report what had happened to me to police. I just can’t even imagine what that has to be like within the toxicity all of you must endure.

    Love.
    Respect.
    Stay safe.

    Cherry

  5. The demand is to high. If they outlaw every escort mall website, crackdown on every site that has personal dating ads and even push all social media like FB, twitter, instagram etc to ban any type of communication that might be interpreted to be provider-hobbyist communication well guess what will happen?

    What will happen is some slick entrepreneur will open up a escort mall website in a third world country where prostitution is legal. The servers will be in that country and the U.S. government and LE won’t be able to do shit.

    Undercover LE still will communicate with providers and clients, do stings and lock up people but they won’t be doing to some 3rd world country website owner what they did to CL, the BP owners, My Redbook and Eros. If the foreign entrepreneur pays off the right people in his country he or she will get a real good run and won’t have to pay the U.S. any taxes. I think that would be a very interesting scenario. Anyway have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2018.

  6. It doesn’t look good. It looks like the bill will pass and become law. I advertise on Eros and the word out from a reliable source is Eros will shutdown the U.S. part of Eros when the law passes. Who can blame them they are millions of dollars ahead. Eros also has a UK and Canada section so they will still make money even after they close U.S. section of their website. I already started my exit strategy to get a 9-5 job. I am so lucky I saved money.

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