For Immediate Release:
January 11, 2016
Matthew Nocella, 202.286.1987
Commercial sex workers need safer spaces and more economic options
Washington, DC – The following is a statement by Councilmember David Grosso on the closure of the adult services section of the website Backpage.com:
“The closure of the adult services section of the classifieds website Backpage.com worsens dangerous working conditions for those involved in commercial sex. Although it was far from perfect, the website provided a safer way for sex workers to advertise their services and screen potential customers—by removing that venue, the government is directly making involvement in commercial sex more dangerous for sex workers. Unfortunately, so many sex workers have been relying on Backpage.com because of previous government action against other online venues that also gave sex workers greater safety and greater autonomy, including Craigslist and Rentboy.
“These kinds of tactics are well-known to sex workers and those who follow these issues—law enforcement actions against sex workers on the streets and in venues pushed these communities further into the shadows. But shuttering a webpage or locking up someone for solicitation does not address the fundamental economic motivation behind most sex workers’ actions. These actions do not put a roof over someone’s head or pay for college debt or cover the utility bills.
“By attacking Backpage.com, and by not listening to sex workers, the government is further limiting the options for people who already have too few. Instead we should be increasing options—encouraging safer working conditions for sex workers, creating more avenues for people to leave commercial sex if they want to, and designing interventions to stop coercion and exploitation based in data, not moralistic campaigns. We should be dedicating resources to harm reduction services, working to eliminate stigma against sex workers, and partnering with sex workers to identify and stop situations of coercion and exploitation. Although the government targeted Backpage.com allegedly to address human trafficking in the commercial sex sector, this move actually undermines that work, while making working conditions more dangerous for everyone in the sector.
“Just last month I was honored to join community members in D.C. to commemorate the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I heard heartbreaking stories from D.C. and around the world about people whose lives were taken because they were viewed as less than human due to their involvement in sex work. To stop those stories from repeating, we need to listen to what people engaged in commercial sex have to say about their own safety and well-being.”