How the seizure of Backpage in the US should worry sex workers across the world

On Facebook and Twitter, and other Social media, the seizure of Backpage (an online platform where sex workers in the US do their work) has garnered quite some attention – please do google it if you don’t know about it. News articles (at least some of them) are highlighting the dangers this poses to sex workers, how it will compromise their income, how it will compromise their safety. As usually the excuse of combating “sex trafficking” has been brought up in justifying this move… which is beyond ironic because it pushes sex workers into spaces where they will be a lot more vulnerable. My thoughts have been going out to my fellow sex workers in the US, and how this impacts them; and while I never did sex work in the US, I do know street work, and the precarious safety issues that this brings with it (to state it mildly).

As usual… there hasn’t been much I saw from feminists, or others who aren’t sex workers, not just in providing visibility but in offering sex workers assistance in a practical way; apart from sex worker organisations that is. But what worries me as well, is that there is very little discussion about this outside the US portion of the internet, and selected international sex worker organisations… I have yet to see South African feminists discussions about this, or in general even sharing these developments in public platforms… Or if this happens, in a very limited way. And this is a problem.

What is happening in the US shows also that as long as sex work is criminalised… none of us are safe… we talk about safety and different ways of working, and as a former street worker how safety there was a lot more precarious compared to other forms of sex work. What happened in the US shows us that criminalisation makes any “safety” within the sex industry precarious, it makes it subject to political whims, to social movements (often conservative feminist ones) who have exact political and popular influence regarding an industry they neither understand nor should interfere with… it shows that “safety” in some way is always a fluid, often temporary, conditional thing that can be taken from any sex worker at a whim in any situation where sex work is criminalised

In South Africa, and any other country that still criminalises sex work, we should take note of what happens in the US and be worried, understand that this can happen here as well… at any time… We should talk about this because of exactly this: it is not just about the US, it is about all of us; even out of sheer solidarity we need to talk about it, surely. But we need to ask, in light of discussions about so called “partial decriminalisation” and the way “sex trafficking” has been thrown around like candy during christmas in discusions, how long until our own online spaces through which we work get shut down??


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