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2018’s Best Writing and Reporting on Sex Work

photo via Elvert Barnes

How August Ames’ Suicide Is Changing the Porn Industry by Tina Horn
After the tragic death of August Ames left workers reeling, a sprawling industry realized it needed to do better.

Don’t Ask Sex Workers to Solve the Problems of Violently Angry Men by Gaby del Valle
Sex workers are not ethically obligated to fuck the unfuckable.

The New Orleans Police Raid That Launched a Dancer Resistance by Melissa Gira Grant
After a week of police raids and a failed human trafficking investigation, the dancers of NOLA drew a line.

Stormy Daniels’ strip club arrest highlights how evangelical Americans are criminalizing sex work by Susan Elizabeth Shepard
Strip club laws have nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with appeasing the Christian right.

Columbus Officer Was Under Investigation When He Shot and Killed Donna Dalton by Melissa Gira Grant
Dalton’s murderer had already received eight complaints against him.

Stormy Daniels Isn’t Backing Down by Amy Chozick
“Part of what has made Daniels such an effective adversary to Trump is that she seemingly can’t be humiliated or scandalized. She doesn’t have a carefully crafted image or a political base to maintain. Threaten to leak her sex tape? ‘I’ll leak all of them, and you can have as many as you want for $29.95,’ she says.”

Abused then arrested: inside California’s crackdown on sex work by Sam Levin
Homeless Black and Latinx women were targeted.

Donald Trump Played Central Role in Hush Payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal by Joe Palazzolo, Nicole Hong, Michael Rothfeld, Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Rebecca Ballhaus
Stormy Daniels was right.

A Stranger Truth by Ashkok Alexander  Ashkok explains how as the leader of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s campaign against HIV he depended on one of the most threatened and marginalized communities—India’s sex workers—to help snuff out the country’s HIV crisis.

Working Mother Arrested in Sting Operation


I woke up one morning last week to this story: During a sting operation in West Oakland, a 25-year-old woman was arrested when she agreed to have sex with an undercover officer in exchange for money. After being arrested, she told the police that her two twins (some reports state their age as one year, others as one month) were sleeping in her locked car nearby where she had left them to work. The children were then turned over to Alameda County child protective services, and the woman was charged with willful cruelty to a child in addition to solicitation.

We Deserve Better: Reflections On The War On Backpage

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 the Netherlands, 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.

The Worst Sex Work Headlines of 2014

image via Library of Congress

From Belle Knox to working the World Cup, the headline writers of the world’s publications had cause to write many headlines about sex work. In chronological order, we bring you the worst ten of the bunch, each gross, reductive, and hateful in its own special way.

I Begged For Change To Stay Out Of The Sex Industry,” XOJane, Feb. 6 2014

XOJane’s “It Happened To Me” feature is generally offensive (“It Happened To Me: I Had First World Problems”) but this edition might take the cake. A lot of bad things happened to this woman while she was impoverished, but her equivocation over whether or not to become a high end escort after watching Secret Diary Of A Call Girl wasn’t one of them.

Welcome Home, Daddy, I’m A Porn Star!” The Daily Mail, Mar. 10 2014

We know the Daily Fail isn’t exactly known for its rigorous journalism, and they are in the business of aggregation, so it’s not surprising that they had the single worst headline about Belle Knox.

Sex Workers Are Excited For The World Cup Because They Think It Will Make Them Rich,” The Atlantic, Apr. 15 2014

Sex workers are realists, and painting Brazilian workers as naive dreamers with Pretty Woman fantasies featuring dollar wielding American white knight clients does them a grave disservice.

Why Do So Many Leftists Want Sex Work to Be the New Normal?” The Nation, Apr. 21 2014

It’s news to us that SO MANY leftists want that, but it would seem that wanting rights for all workers should be a part of any decent politics. Katha Pollitt really goes in on the “the sex workers we hear from are all too privileged to be credible!” theme here, not realizing that her example of a New Inquiry-contributing, grad-school attending sex worker has a story that doesn’t back up her thesis.

Tech-Savvy Prostitutes Trade Pimps for Web Pages,” NBCNews.com, Jul. 11 2014

It’s a story straight out of 2007: Sex workers use the internet to advertise!