InMonroe was a trafficking victim in California. She found her clients by advertising on SFRedbook, the free online erotic services website.
One day, she logged into the site and discovered that federal authorities had taken it down. When she told her pimp SFRedbook was gone, he shrugged.
Then he told her that she would just have to work outdoors from then on. Sex workers have long argued that cheap online erotic services advertising platforms make their jobs much safer. Law enforcement officials like Sheriff Tom Dart of Chicago, however, insist that sites like Craigslist and Back increase trafficking and endanger women.
Federal and state officials have relentlessly harassed businesses that provide online eroticforcing first Craigslist and then Back to close or severely curtail their listings. Despite all the law enforcement resources expended, empirical research on the dangers or benefits of erotic services has been sparse.
But a new study provides strong evidence that when law enforcement closes down sites like Craigslist or Redbook, women die. The September studyauthored by West Virginia University and Baylor University economics and information systems experts, analyzes rates of female homicides in various cities before and after Craigslist opened an erotic services section on its website.
The authors found a shocking 17 percent decrease in homicides with female victims after Craigslist erotic services were introduced. The most likely explanation, though, Cunningham says, is that sex workers simply make up a huge percentage of female homicide victims.
When sex workers are safer, female homicide rates drop ificantly. They found that after Craigslist introduced erotic services s, client reviewers mentioned lower prices and lower satisfaction — a that lower-priced street workers were moving indoors and receiving reviews for the first time.
Once sex workers move indoors, they are much safer for a of reasons, Cunningham said. The sex worker just has to make the split second decision.
Whereas when a sex worker solicits indoors through digital means, she has Google, she has a lot of correspondence, she can ask a lot of questions. Researchers interviewed 44 sex workers on the street and, of those workers, 18 percent said they had moved outdoors following the closing of SFRedbook.
DiAngelo also believes that easy access to online makes trafficking less likely, rather than more likely. Maxine Doogan, founder of the California-based Erotic Service Providers Unionadded that online ad providers like Craigslist and Back also improve safety because they provide access to steadier work and more affluent clients.
One worker she knew had been forced to give up her apartment, and had to rely on a man for housing. In theory, closing down advertising is supposed to reduce exploitation of women. In practice, when resources are taken away from people living on the edge of poverty, they have fewer options and are less able to protect themselves.
For all these reasons access to the Internet can transform the experience of sex work. Sex workers report that free online advertising makes them safer. There is now data showing that erotic services ificantly decrease female homicide rates.
So, will law enforcement back down and allow these sites to operate again? Cunningham is not optimistic. Monroe is no longer working on the street.
While the police were more interested in arresting her than helping her, she connected with SWOP Sacramento. The organization helped her leave her pimp. She has two daughters and is currently working at the post office.
But she still vividly remembers how much less safe she became when Redbook shut down. The approach to sex work, Monroe argued, should be more like the approach to heroin addiction.