Before Maya was a sex worker, she worked in retail. She hated it — long hours on her feet, difficult customers and low pay. When Maya started doing sex work, she discovered that she could be her own boss, set her own schedule and make more money than she could in retail.
As the names suggest, they were deed to reduce sex trafficking.
But sex workers and scholars say they have had the opposite effect. Website owners now face up to 10 years in prison if one instance of prostitution-related content is posted to their website and up to 25 years if the content facilitates the prostitution of five or more persons.
The biggest problem with the law, according to Brents, is that it fails to differentiate between sex trafficking in which victims are forced or coerced into sex work, or are minors and voluntary adult sex work. The two are often conflated in popular media — so much so that when Brents first started studying the industry 25 years ago, she admits not being entirely sure of the difference herself.
Google Drive users reported being locked out of sexually explicit files stored on the platform or those files vanishing altogether.
You can see a list of all websites that have been affected here. Consensual sex workers lost the networks they had developed to make a dangerous job safer. Sites for verifying client identities went down, as did community forums where sex workers could share safety tips and circulate names of abusive clients.
But most ificant for a lot of sex workers were the closures, within weeks of each other, of personal classifieds site Back. Two weeks later, the FBI seized Back and posted a federal seizure notice on the website.
Maya used to advertise on Craigslist. The closures hit low-income sex workers the hardest because Back and Craigslist were among the only free or affordable websites where they could advertise.
What had been revolutionary about these websites was that they enabled even the most marginalized sex workers — people who, before the internet, generally worked on the street — to start working indoors. They could find clients on their own without relying on third parties like pimps or escort agencies; they could screen prospective clients before meeting them through methods like speaking on the phone or requesting things like photo ID, proof of workplace and references; and they were less subject to arrest by law enforcement.
And, says Heather Berg, a sex work scholar at the University of Southern California, Back and Craigslist were the most democratic websites out there. In the last year, cities across the U. Police in Houston reported seeing more to year-olds working on the street.
In part, these sites have been able to survive because they have the resources to locate their IP addresses overseas. Sites used by low-income sex workers are considered easier targets for law enforcement because of the assumption that women making less money are victims of exploitation.
For Berg, the fact that the elite sites are still around is an important indicator. Some sex workers have tried to work in legal areas of the industry, like brothels or porn. High-end escorts have been able to raise their prices even further.
Those are the escort agencies, massage parlors and pimps who provide the kind of access to clients and protection from violence that sex workers used to be able to secure for themselves via the internet. Maya has tried working for massage parlors and escort agencies.
You have to work every day. And a lot of your profits are taken away. When the law passed, there were multiple reports of sex workers being flooded by messages, online and offline, from pimps trying to recruit them. In my experience, a majority of people are still making do through the informal economy in the ways they can.
Because of the stigma it carries, sex workers often face employment discrimination when they try to leave the industry. So trying to work for another job would be really hard.
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