Sacramento, CA. USA – October 6, 2016 -The Sex Workers Outreach Project of Sacramento is alarmed by today’s raid on Backpage.com’s Dallas offices and the arrest of their CEO, Carl Ferrer, and controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin. It concerns us that the discourse around this arrest conflates consensual sex work with sexual exploitation, and to suggest that a publisher is responsible for the actions of an advertiser sets a dangerous precedent for free speech.
Sex work is not the same as sex trafficking. Sex workers are firmly opposed to all forms of rape, sex trafficking, or commercial sexual exploitation. We support the eradication of real instances of human trafficking and exploitation of minors. Targeting the head of BackPage.com does nothing to address the root causes of sexual exploitation. “I am so upset. Those who are engaged in survival sex will end up on a street corner, with increased violence and risk if backpage is taken down.” -Kristen DiAngelo, Executive Director
Criminalization of prostitution is known to do more harm than good. We call on all states to decriminalize the consensual exchange of sex for money while continuing to prohibit force, fraud or coercion into the sex industry, as recommended by Amnesty International in May of 2016.
“I really think Kamala Harris has better things to do than target backpage. Like, prosecute the cops in Celeste Guap’s ongoing case,” SWOP Los Angeles member Danny Cruz stated, citing the Oakland Police Department sex scandal involving a minor.
Online advertising enables many sex workers to work more safely and independently. “In our Needs Assessment, we learned that 8% of the street-based workers interviewed had returned to the streets after the 2014 closure of MyRedBook.com,” DiAngelo said, referencing SWOP Sacramento’s 2015 research project titled “Sex Work and Human Trafficking in the Sacramento Valley.” MyRedBook.com was an advertising platform similar to BackPage.com.
Efforts to shut down venues where sex workers advertise deepens adversarial conflicts between police and sex workers. “When we fear police and legal repercussions, we are not able to report abuse that we witness. Criminalization silences sex workers rather than allowing us to be part of the solution,” Kimberlee Cline, sex worker and SWOP member, said.
To reduce the vulnerability of minors, we must create economic and social solutions to help our youth. Arresting the CEO of BackPage.com is not moving us closer to real economic solutions for vulnerable young people.
We urge the media and our fellow Americans to report responsibly and think critically about this issue. Sex work is not the same as human trafficking. Decriminalization of sex work will help us fight sexual exploitation. Targeting BackPage.com will not.