Sex workers across America were left scrambling on Monday after Backpage.com, an online advertising clearinghouse, closed its controversial “adult” section following years of intense US government and law enforcement pressure.
In my city of New Orleans, professional dominatrix and masseuse Mistress Genevieve needed a ride to an emergency meeting of local sex workers spooked about the news, so I picked her up at her tasteful Seventh Ward dungeon, appointed with a working stockade. “Before Backpage, there was no site for anyone who wasn’t a full-service provider,” she explained as we drove to the meeting Wednesday. “Backpage was the only place I was finding work as someone who doesn’t provide [traditional sex]. It gets so much traffic that you’d get guys who were just looking for domination, or specific other stuff. The other sites don’t generate enough traffic for that.”
But according to a report released Monday by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations after a 20-month investigation, Backpage is also involved in 73 percent of all child trafficking reports that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receives. The report also cited Backpage’s own estimates that it once edited up to 80 percent of its “Adult” ads to remove words that allude to sex trafficking. In the face of such intense scrutiny, the site acquiesced and shut down its Adult section.
It’s important to note, however, that none of the sex workers I spoke to for this article say they’ve ever seen evidence of human trafficking on the site, and Backpage’s official statement accompanying the “adult” shutdown was one of defiance. “For years, the legal system protecting freedom of speech prevailed, but new government tactics… have left the company with no other choice but to remove the content,” it read.
Either way, the mess leaves many consenting adults in the lurch, wondering how they’ll do business without taking on excess risk in one of America’s more dangerous black markets. Sex workers have endured in the face of many crackdowns over the years, of course, but rarely have they experienced a potential economic shockwave quite like this one.
Genevieve has worked as a dominatrix for 23 years, starting her BDSM career working from the backs of nightclubs. “This was already my only job before the internet even came along,” she recalled. “And I was one of the first mistresses with a website. I also did really well with print ads in the back of local magazines like Gambit and OffBeat—and in turn, escort ads are what paid the bills for a lot of those magazines. Today, I was wondering if I shouldn’t try print ads again…” To read the rest of the article at VICE.COM CLICK HERE!
Or check out how this “Backpage.com pimp is living”