What the hell is going on with Backpage?

by Miss Andrie on July 3, 2015 · 32 comments

in Cops, Prostitution, Trafficking

Did this promo code work for you? Let us know! (image via theconceptofawoman.tumblr.com)

Did this promo code work for you? Let us know! (image via theconceptofawoman.tumblr.com)

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 Backpage.com, 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.

via flickr user Lash9240

A CAB in Chicago! And everywhere else! (image via Flickr user Lash9240)

Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Illinois, has focused hard on fighting “sex trafficking” during his time in office. He and his department, working closely with anti-sex work organizations such as Demand Abolition, have spearheaded initiatives such as the National Day of Johns Arrests, making hundreds of prostitution-related arrests over a period of years. In 2009, Dart sued Craigslist in an effort to have that site remove its adult ads. Although the suit was unsuccessful, the site ultimately submitted to the pressure, voluntarily shutting down its erotic services section in 2010.

The last several years have been good to anti-sex work interests, who have successfully reframed their crusade from being against prostitution to being against “sexual slavery.” The political climate has shifted from the now unpopular War on Drugs to the War on Sex Trafficking, with harsh laws such as C-36 in Canada and the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act in the United States funding increased policing in the name of “protecting children” and “ending exploitation.” These laws and their advocates conflate consensual sex work with human trafficking, and in practice mainly target adult sex workers and their clients, making it harder for them to do business and stay safe. Nor do these policies actually aid survivors of trafficking in the sex industry. Instead they often lead to survivors deported, detained, or struggling with open criminal records.

But Dart and his allies hadn’t been having much luck targeting Backpage, where many workers migrated after they could no longer advertise on Craigslist. Public shaming didn’t work, and attempts to shut down the site failed both legislatively and in the court system. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects websites from being held responsible for outside content published by its users; attempts to amend or strike down this part of the law in Congress were fought as attacks on free speech, and the law remained unchanged. Multiple lawsuits against Backpage were also dismissed on constitutional grounds.

Not to be deterred by small things like the Constitution, Dart decided to attempt an outside the box tactic. He wrote letters to the top executives of Visa and MasterCard, asking them to suspend payment processing to Backpage for “moral, social and legal reasons…to help protect vulnerable and victimized women and children.”

This tactic worked, faster than even Dart could have dared to dream. MasterCard pulled out the following day, with a statement that said “MasterCard has rules that prohibit our cards from being used for illegal or brand-damaging activities.” Visa followed suit a day later, with a statement saying “Visa’s rules prohibit our network from being used for illegal activity.”

In fact, their actions went far beyond the reach of law. Backpage is used in over 80 countries; because credit card companies’ reach is global, their cutting off service to the site affects sex workers worldwide, including those whose work is legal in their jurisdictions. And what the site itself was doing was legally protected, as courts had found time and time again.

But who’s counting? Anti-sex work advocates were thrilled with the response, hailing the circumvention of due process as a “progressive” way of going after the site since everything else they had tried had failed to stand up to scrutiny. Dart himself declared it “a great day for all who are engaged in the anti-sex trafficking struggle,” since the companies pulling out would “make the average trafficker or pimp’s life much more difficult.”

If anything, the new restrictions will make it easier for the few traffickers or pimps on Backpage to hide, by making it so that people can only pay for advertising via anonymous means instead of traceable ones with their names and information attached. But efforts to combat sex work under the guise of trafficking are often counterproductive to their stated purpose. What is new, and alarming, is the precedent this sets. One cop can shut down a site’s ability to do business simply because it engages in speech he doesn’t like, even if that speech is legally protected. All he has to do is ask!

What constitutes “brand-damaging” is a matter of opinion. Visa and MasterCard are fine with doing business with the KKK, for example. Given recent events, it seems plausible that many cops may not have a problem with that, but it’s easy to imagine other kinds of speech they might not like. Political or community groups that might be critical of them? Art or sexualities that might offend someone? Independent news media? Us?

Sex workers shouldn’t be the only ones who are concerned about this, even if few people seem to be concerned about sex workers. Innocent children, however fictional, are easier to drum up sympathy for than poor people finding ways to survive in a world that wants us to quietly die.

In the end, the most affected by this will be the most marginalized among us. Many of the higher echelons of sex workers in the US don’t advertise on Backpage at all, and those who do are more likely to have the resources to learn how to use Bitcoin, pay high fees for prepaid cards, or move on to more expensive, less accessible sites.

Backpage has never had pretensions of being “high-end” or “upscale.” The cost and barrier to entry to advertise on the site are low, and the workers who use it are numerically more likely to be poorer, browner, and less gender-conforming than the smaller and more homogeneous populations of higher-end sites—those with fewer resources, who have fewer options. Preventing these workers from being able to advertise makes it more likely for them to be driven onto the streets, into the hands of pimps or managers, or simply into more desperate poverty.

Politicians may not see this as an issue, but all of us should. As conservative Canadian senator Donald Plett put it in reference to End Demand bill C-36, “Of course, we don’t want to make life safe for prostitutes; we want to do away with prostitution. That’s the intent.”

The human effect is just collateral damage—if we’re even considered human at all.

Sex work is criminalized in the US, but not all sex workers are criminalized equally. The war against sex workers mirrors the war on the poor more generally, and those who are members of more criminalized populations get targeted more harshly. It’s not a coincidence that Backpage got targeted first, but it would be a mistake for more privileged workers to assume that they aren’t up next. Real solidarity is needed, especially from those at the higher end to those at the lower ones. We need to help each other out and lift each other up, with action, not lip service.

They don’t give a fuck about us. We have to give a fuck about each other.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberlee Cline July 3, 2015 at 2:16 pm

I tried it. Here’s what I got:

The promotional code you have entered does not match any active promotions.”


Caty Simon July 3, 2015 at 2:20 pm

I’m about to try it–cross your fingers for me…


Chelsea Lane July 3, 2015 at 3:38 pm

I think the FreeSpeech code is only for Australian sex workers. The credit card ban was global, even though sex work is legal in most parts of Australia. It didn’t work for me, either, so I’m assuming it’s location-based.


Zaria July 3, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Nope, doesn’t work for me either.


V July 3, 2015 at 3:15 pm

So, I guess maybe people are trying to keep this quiet, but I think more sex workers probably read this site than cops, so: You can now use any kind of credit card to buy “backpage credits,” which can then be used to pay for any kind of ad. You just need to make an account on backpage.


Kiley July 3, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Use your cards, including your AMEX at their sister site, http://www.postfastr.com/…it funds your BP account, then sign in and post your ads as usual!

I will give the promotional code a try next week, hope it is working!!!


Kim July 7, 2015 at 9:54 pm

Genius … I Am a worker affected by visa cutting ties with backpage . I know lots of women affected by it to and the fact you figured out or heard about postfastr.com was great help . We are average American women feeding our families and or paying for school and enjoying have a little extra $ at the end of the month. Now we are able to credit our accounts using our visas and other payments that have recently been denied to be able to post our ads thanku so much . And if any one can suggest any other great safe site to post our adult ads would be so helpful thanku ladies for putting brains and efforts together .. Kim


anon March 23, 2016 at 9:47 pm

I got an email from someone claiming to be with backpage saying postfastr.com was related and they would post my ads on backpage. Not only did they not post my ad on backpage but it never showed up on postfastr either. Support never replied, had to call my credit card company to get $6 back. What a scam


Lizz July 3, 2015 at 5:41 pm

The promo code FREESPEECH apparently works everywhere but the US and Canada. Ironic? In the meantime, you can email bp support with a request for help and they will do what they can to assist.


Kera July 4, 2015 at 1:25 am

Backpage has never had pretensions of being “high-end” or “upscale.” The cost and barrier to entry to advertise on the site are low, and the workers who use it are numerically more likely to be poorer, browner, and less gender-conforming than the smaller and more homogeneous populations of higher-end sites—those with fewer resources, who have fewer options.
I see what you did there. You have way too many articles on this site with racist undertones. Where do you get these bullshit stats from? Seriously.


Ebony Body Works July 4, 2015 at 9:39 am

Hopefully they get this situation sorted out or another Classified ad platform pops up. I hate feeling like the demise of an industry that I love so much is on the horizon :::sigh:::


CBQ July 31, 2015 at 3:34 am

Demise? This war against woman and poor people is FAR from new.


Ms Sassy Sherry July 4, 2015 at 3:41 pm

I am so upset with all this bullshit. It’s like one thing after another, lets not forget “Redbook”.

Instead of even trying for a glimpse of us as human beings, they just keep on attacking us.

When in reality, the morality issues are their own personal problems that they are pushing onto us.

Sex Workers have morals too, just because mine may differ from yours does not make yirs better than mine for which I’m to be further punished by this misogonystic, self-righteous society.

SOLIDARITY, my brothers, sisters, and transgender family, we need to stand together stronger and prouder and better than ever before, because I’m going to fight this battle til my dying day.

You people have pushed me out of my community long enough, I’m done cowering away because your not comfortable, get over it, we’re here to stay.


Debbie DeSantis July 5, 2015 at 12:19 pm

https://blockchain.info/wallet What about using this? Just wondering if this is legit why people have to take classes to use bitcoin? Is it that difficult to use?


Adam V. March 14, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Yes, that wallet is “legit” to use and is totally not a scam of any kind. Blockchain.info is an authority in the world of Bitcoin.


Alaina July 10, 2015 at 8:01 am

Thank you Just found this site. Postfaster works. I got credits.

Will pass along


eve minax July 15, 2015 at 8:02 pm

Seriously, what IS working on BP right now? It keeps telling me my ads are up and they ARE not. WTF?


Adam V. March 14, 2016 at 3:42 pm

I hope you have your problem sorted out. I wonder if you were trying to post free ads and they weren’t showing up, or you paid for your ads but can’t see them.


Alaina July 16, 2015 at 6:58 am

Visa is now working again on bp.


Stacey October 26, 2015 at 1:43 am

How can I pay for an ad without using bitcoin? ??? HELP


RIsa Jenner November 2, 2015 at 2:07 pm

backpagecredits.com has the problem solved. we take credit card payment and send bitcoin to your backpage account. its fast easy and safe. 20,000 customers and climbing.

use the promo code PROMOTitsAndASS for free credits with any purchase


aces February 20, 2016 at 11:52 am

backpage credits not working anymore help


Devon February 20, 2016 at 5:42 pm

It works just fine.

Does this really seem like the right place to look for help with another persons website?


Adam V. March 14, 2016 at 3:32 pm

Why not ? If your in need any there are willing people ready and able, why not ask ?

Backpage Credit is a great site but they do go down from time to time. If you should ever need an alternative you can check out BuyBpCredits.com..

Thank you.


Mike Smith March 13, 2016 at 12:12 am

Weeks after the credit card companies dropped Backpage a few sites started accepting credit cards again for pepple who want to post. Once site that sells Backpage Credits is https://buybpcredits.com They offer full customer support. They pretty much walk all displaced adult service providers with an alternative to Bitcoin.


Adam V. March 14, 2016 at 3:30 pm

It truly is sad to see what a lot of people are going through due to Backpage switching to Bitcoin. Bitcoin is very intimidating to someone who firsts encounters it. However, once you get to use it a few times its really not that hard. Its actually pretty easy to deal with once you have the hang of it.

Its been about 5 to 6 months now since Backpage has been using Bitcoin and there still what seems like thousands of people stuck with no way to post. I work for BuyBpCredis and we sell Backpage Credits to people. It surprises me how many people on a daily basis are suffering due to this change.

I would like to take this opportunity to make an offer to anyone who is legitimately in need of way to get a post up.

If you contact me through email or through live chat you will receive $1.00 in Backpage Credits https://buybpcredits.com

Supplies are limited so please do not apply if you are not truly in need. We make a profit selling credits, this is true. However, we also give back. For the first month of business we gave out over 2,000 free credits.

Thank you for your time.


anon March 23, 2016 at 9:47 pm

I got an email from someone claiming to be with backpage saying postfastr.com was related and they would post my ads on backpage. Not only did they not post my ad on backpage but it never showed up on postfastr either. Support never replied, had to call my credit card company to get $6 back. What a scam


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