Advocates left and right have applauded federal authorities’ seizure of classified ads website Backpage.com as a victory for women in the sex trade. But who’s angriest about the shutdown? Women in the sex trade. progressives from Capitol Hill to Hollywood have leaped to denounce Backpage just as they’ve leaped before to denounce the prospect of legalizing prostitution. But it seems these avatars of female empowerment have failed to do the one thing that would actually empower the women they claim to defend: pay attention to what those women think.
Now they’ve taken to the Internet to tell stories of how the website spared them from exploitative forces operating in the even seedier underground of the sex economy. Backpage, former users say, freed them from dependency on pimps. The ability to cross-check clients with other sex workers, or even chat with clients ahead of time, helped them avoid abusive johns. The site also allowed them to schedule indoor dates and avoid the streets.
The problem is, the route to protection is not so sure at all. For every study that purports to show a surge in trafficking where sex work is decriminalized, there’s another that shows the opposite, and researchers have detailed the benefits that can come with legalization, from drops in sexually-transmitted diseases to drops in violence.
In our research, we have determined that there cannot be a legislative solution. We cannot rely on others to solve the problem by implementing control over industry and businesses. The solution lies within addressing the deprivation in our culture and awareness within our communities.
Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, an author and expert witness on human trafficking points out that criminal traffickers are moving to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, “where they’re able to hide under the veneer of a legitimate social media account,” she said.
Mehlman-Orozco, and some law enforcement officials, noted that Backpage was often cooperative with police investigations and provided a place to track the traffickers. “What we should have done was facilitated the cooperation” between the websites and police, requiring more and better notification, she said. “All we’ve done is gotten rid of one virtual place where this can happen, but there are thousands of others out there.”