BACKPAGE AND PIMPS- WHO IS AND ISN'T FLEECING SEX WORKERS
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT AND THE MEDIA DOESN'T REALIZE ABOUT THE INTERNET
AND HOW IT HAS CHANGED THE LIVES OF SEX WORKERS AROUND THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER
November 27, 2016
Let me be upfront with everyone. I retired from sex work years before there were any online forums for advertising for clients. Not only that, even if there had been such a forum, I wouldn’t have used it. I only worked through madams, I wouldn’t know how to advertise or screen for clients if my life depended on it.
Today it is a different world and there is a much more effective way for sex workers to find clients. And their lives do depend on being able to work safely; to advertise so they don’t need a third party to find work for them, whether or not the work is legal, and control how and when they work. The internet has done for most sex workers what all the rescue organizations in the world could not- it has eliminated the need for a “pimp.”
Did I work for a pimp? Technically yes- because ‘pimping’ is simply “living off the earnings of a prostitute, in full or in part.” Guess who was one of my ‘pimps’ when I first started working as a call girl? The Los Angeles Police Credit Union. I still had to pay off my car loan made during my 10 year employment with the LAPD, and I made certain the credit union knew where my money from coming from… my sex work. Did the credit union get arrested for pimping? No. [So the law can be enforced arbitrarily and selectively, as are the laws against prostitution itself. This gives law enforcement agents tremendous power over our lives as they can and do use the laws to extort sex workers for sex, money and information in exchange for not arresting us: look at the most recent scandal in Oakland with Celeste Guap and the numerous cops who had sex with her- even when she was a minor. See also the list of cops who have used the laws to rape, extort, pimp, solicit and even kill sex workers because the laws give them the power to do so.]
Of course the madams for whom I worked were also, under the law, pimps. But I willingly chose to work for them- although actually, they worked for me, just as my literary agent did. I hired them- paid them a fee- to find me clients who were known to them (safe) and who paid well. For that service, they received a percentage of my earnings, just as my literary agent received a percentage of my advance and royalties after she sold my book to Simon and Schuster. If sex work was not illegal, the percentage of my earnings that I gave them would have been far less, because if they hadn’t been taking the bigger, felony risk for finding appropriate clients for me, I could have paid them accordingly.
The internet has changed the way other self- employed people do business. Authors get to publish their books through venues such as Amazon, and find readers without needing a literary agent or publishing house. There are still fees, of course, but those fees are much less than giving up 15 % to 25% of their royalties to an agent. Can an author be ripped off by an online publisher? Yes. And they can also be ripped off by a literary agent. Overall, the internet allows more flexibility for authors to get their work published and to find buyers for their books and to also keep a greater portion of the book sales, which is a good thing.
The internet has also changed the way sex workers find clients for their intimate services (and not all sex work is illegal). Being able to post their own ads and control their work environment and income has provided the opportunity for most sex workers to work without the need for a ‘pimp.’ This is something that the media and pandering politicians do not seem to understand; that backpage.com and other adult ad venues make it possible for sex workers to work safely for themselves and set their own rules for their work. How is this not a good thing? Contrary to popular misconception, we are not all victims- in fact most of us are not victims of anything other than the hypocrisy and ignorance of a society that doesn’t understand that sex work IS a job. And as any other job- some love it, some tolerate it and some hate it. However, it pays the bills and no other worker in any other job where they MIGHT hate their work is forced out of their job by moral and social busybodies who want to ‘rescue’ them from work they may not like. No one came to rescue me from my horrible job working for the LAPD; I had to rescue myself.
Every sex worker I know (and through my activism of nearly 35 years, I know thousands of them around the world) wants to prevent all ‘sex trafficking’- if only to stop people from presuming that all of us are victims. More than that, none of us want anyone, adult or child, to be forced to do this work.
As a happily married woman, I can’t stand the thought of all the victims of domestic violence that are out there. I know that domestic violence is a serious issue; as is violent sexual assault and rape. What shall we do about the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape where the victims found their predator on a dating site where there was NO sex work involved? Shall we ban dating websites to prevent the horrific situations in which some women find themselves? Would it help if we banned dating and marriage altogether? No more domestic violence, no more date rape… Of course it wouldn’t help! What would help is prioritizing the cases of those who are actual victims who ask for help, rather than presuming that every ad on backpage.com is posted by a ‘pimp’ who forces a minor or adult woman to prostitute themselves for financial gain.
Did you know that on average, every year law enforcement agents manage to solve only about 10% of all reported violent rapes and sexual assaults? In 2015, their average was 4.5%. Out of the reported 431,840 violent rapes and sexual assaults, cops arrested 19,304 alleged rapists. There were 460,450 reported cases of serious domestic violence, but it is unknown how many arrests were made for that crime. Where is the concern for those victims? How many REPORTED sex trafficking cases does the FBI list for 2015? 744, of which 310 were confirmed as actual sex trafficking cases. Of those, 3 were minors. These statistics come from the FBI Bureau of Justice Statistics (tables # 5, #69 and # 2 “Human Trafficking”) and the annual Criminal Victimization Report.
The following comments are from actual sex workers who have used the internet/ backpage to find clients. I cannot use their real names, because that would jeopardize their safety and put them at risk of “being rescued” by law enforcement. Are they using fake names because they are ashamed of what they do? Hardly! Society has deemed them victims and given cops carte blanche in their enforcement of the laws, even when the work is legal.
JANUARY 1, 2017: IT HAS BEEN VERY DIFFICULT TO CONVINCE MY CURRENTLY WORKING COLLEAGUES TO PROVIDE A QUOTE FOR THIS PAGE, AS THEY ARE TERRIFIED OF BEING UNCOVERED BY THE LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES IN THEIR AREA (CITY, STATE, COUNTRY). WE KNOW THAT LAW ENFORCEMENT MONITORS THIS WEBSITE, AND TRACKING THE INDIVIDUALS WHO WOULD POST A COMMENT HERE IS VERY EASY FOR GOVERNMENT AGENTS. EVEN THOUGH THE FOLLOWING INDIVIDUALS USED FAKE NAMES, IF THE COPS WANT TO FIND OUT WHO THEY ARE, THEY WILL DO SO. THESE ARE SEX WORKERS - NOT SEX TRAFFICKING VICTIMS- YET THEY WILL BE TREATED AS VICTIMS AND 'RESCUED' AGAINST THEIR WILL.
Please listen to our voices and stop treating us like ignorant children.
Click here to read the statement of sex workers and organizations from around the world:
Media: to contact any of the listed organizations on this statement, please contact Desiree Alliance or SWOP USA
you may also contact Norma Jean Almodovar at ISWFACE regarding this page [
(at) gmail.com] (police officers DO NOT EMAIL ME)
Here are some blog articles from sex worker activists and research from academics:
"What the Hell is Going On with Backpage?" Tits and Sass
"What the Hell is Going on With Backpage II" Tits and Sass
"We Deserve Better- Reflections on the War Against Backpage" Tits and Sass
"Powerplay" Maggie McNeill The Honest Courtesan
"Crying for Nanny" Maggie McNeill The Honest Courtesan
"Backpage" Maggie McNeill The Honest Courtesan
"It Will Never Stop- Sex Workers Respond to the Backpage Raid" Broadly Vice.com
"Win for Backpage is a Win for Sex Workers (and a Blow to Sex Traffickers)" Cathy Reisenwitz
"Sex work ads move underground to 'unregulated and often unmoderated' sites" Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform
"Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution- Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health"- Professor Scott Cunningham Baylor Univ.
"America's top online brothel a critical tool for law enforcement"
"Why Cracking Down on Sex Sites Won't Stop Traffickers"
Criminologist KIMBERLY MEHLMAN-OROZCO
"Decriminalizing prostitution linked to fewer STDs and rapes"
From Bella Robinson:
"I started doing sex work in over 30 years ago. Back in the day a sex worker could work for a escort agency in the yellow pages, who screened their clients and took 40% of their earnings, or they could work the street or in a massage parlor.
I got back into sex work in my mid 40's after being out of the sex industry for about a decade. Online advertising has allowed me to be a independent escort, and it has allowed me the screening tools I need to vet clients through referrals of other online escorts and it has given me the ability to blacklist aggressive men and predators.
A sex worker's safety is even more important now that we have all these trafficking laws. I am forced to work alone because working with another adult sex worker and sharing space, could get me arrested for major felonies like promoting and pandering.
It is critical that sex workers be allowed to work together to ensure their safety. Sex workers should be able to hire 3rd party support staff, like receptionists, office assistance and drivers to ensure their safety. Without online advertising sex workers would be forced back out into the streets and they would have to get in cars without being able to access the danger. They would have to lower their prices, take on more clients, take on shadier clients that are likely to be violent.
Sex workers would be much safer under decriminalization like we had in RI from 1979 until 2009. Sex workers were free to work from home, hotels or for agencies and spa's. They could dial 911 and report violence and there was little exploitation in RI sex industry during this time. We also saw a over a 30% decrease in rapes and STDs in RI.
More more than 30 years, sex work has been the one constant in my life, that always allowed me to pick up the pieces and gain stability regardless of how many times I have been displaced by the states violence. (ARRESTS)
I was able to raise my daughter without welfare and food stamps, I can afford to live alone, and I don't have to shack up with some abusive man just so he will pay 1/2 the rent. Being an independent sex worker means I only have to work 4 or 5 hours a week to make a living, and this has allowed me to use my privilege to advocate for the human rights of several marginalized populations.
As a 53 year old women, people often ask me what I plan to do when I am 80. Yet when I look around I see 80 year olds still working low paying jobs just to survive. Even on my worse day being a sex worker, it beats working at Walmart."
"How else would I find clients? I could not imagine walking up and down the street in heels and a short skirt waiting for guys pull up and ask about my services. What a nightmare. I advertise almost exclusively with Backpage. I judge their attitude on the phone first thing. I can usually tell within 10 seconds if they are a good client or not. I like being able to hang up on rude guys. I mark their number in my phone so I never answer for them again. Before I meet with a new guy, I run the phone number through a screening service. I am able to tell if the phone is a contract phone of if it's just a disposable, untraceable phone number. I can tell if they have had the phone many years or if they just got it recently. Many times I can get their full name and address just by running their phone number. Also, I can see if they have been put on the blacklist by other girls. I have been saved from dangerous clients by checking their number on the blacklist. I could not imagine doing business without internet advertising. Thank you ...Carrie"
From Julie B:
"I have been a sex worker on and off for over 30 years and luckily work in the state of New South Wales in Australia where good sense prevailed in 1995 to decriminalise sex work on the basis of improving our health and safety and removing opportunities for third party abuse including police corruption. Under decriminalisation there is no need for 'pimps' or third parties as you are not in need of 'middle men or women'' to protect you or pay police to turn a blind eye. Having worked under a criminalised regime I can compare the benefits of decriminalisation including my safety and improvements to services and stigma and discrimination. On line advertising has enabled myself and other sex workers to work indoors and create safer spaces for our work, be self employed and not reliant on third parties. It also provides a safety net where one can check the credential of a potential client, get to know them a little first, record their phone numbers and give the numbers to a trusted friend in case of the worse case scenario. None of this of course is possible when working from the street or other location where you have little opportunity to establish boundaries. My work over the years and more recently has included providing services for people with a disability whose socio/sexual lives are often dependent on access to online sites such as Backpage. They are unable to just turn up at a brothel or massage parlour and are reliant on connections made through on line advertising and to take this life enhancing opportunity away from them would be as devastating as it would be to us who also rely upon it to maintain our safety and dignity."
From Mistress R:
"I use Backpage to find clients. It allows me to vet potential clients before agreeing to see them. I check to see if they have a google footprint and if they have a police record. I've been a sex worker for over 2 years and have never had a problem with a client. I have never used or needed a pimp. I work for myself. I have chosen this work of my own accord and enjoy it about as much as every job I have ever held - but I make much more money and work less hours. This allows me to pursue my passion - writing. I am not a victim. I am in charge of my own life, and I am not at the mercy of a minimum wage job."
"The ability to post ads and review customer profiles through various websites has given me the safeguards to adequately screen and protect myself physically. Negotiating rates beforehand means that I am not at risk of experiencing violence when I meet up for a date, as the price and expectations have been clearly stated. In addition, there is an online trail and digital fingerprint of sorts that could be tied back to a customer should I ever experience violence and wish to report a crime to law enforcement."
From Magda, migrant sex worker, UK.
"Backpage is my main source of clients. I advertise on a hundred other directories, but Backpage is the most efficient one. Some of the other directories I advertise on are also paid (and I feel like some of them are out there to just rip me off) but even among the paid ones Backpage is the most efficient while also the cheapest. And because they have had to move to bitcoin payments recently, it's now also the most anonymous to advertise on (and for me as a migrant sex worker this is a major factor) so it's a total boon. I will still be able to work if Backpage isn't there anymore, but my work will not be this easy and I'll have to shell out more cash to reach the same amount of clients."
From Sally S.
"This online forum gives me the freedom a pimp refuses me. Thanks to backpage I'm totally independent, no one is profiting off my body."