I started doing sex work after I got kicked out of my house. One night when I needed a place to stay, I answered an ad for sex work on Craigslist which was supposed to be just short of prostitution, which led me directly to a trafficker. He wrote and placed ads which strongly implied prostitution, without my consent, on the Erotic Services section of Craigslist, and directly sexually assaulted me.
He left for a bit after placing me in a room with a customer and I ran away. He called my cell and chastised me for running. He tried to convince me to come back, but thankfully I did not take the bait, and he did not know where I was.
Despite all this, I support the existence of sex work advertizing on places such as Craigslist and Backpage. Shutting down low-cost advertising venues such as these will put both consensual sex workers and trafficking victims out on the street. For consensual sex workers, shutting down advertizing services does not magically eliminate the conditions that caused them to seek out sex work in the first place. So in the absence of Backpage, they will still require the ability to advertise somewhere, which may in many cases mean advertising on the street, which is considerably more dangerous.
Second, closing down online advertisers will also remove the digital trail that can serve as a great source of information for law enforcement if the trafficking victim decides to report the crime. When I reported my pimp a number of years later, a digital trail still existed that allowed us to identify him.
Lastly, the conditions that make people like me vulnerable to human trafficking will not disappear, nor will the economic incentives that exist for traffickers. Closing down Backpage would have still left me out on the street that night I was kicked out. Instead, we should focus our energy on making sure there are ample emergency resources available to combat trafficking.
I do not believe for one second that shutting down Craigslist would have put my pimp out of business. He would have found another way to advertise, which may have meant putting me out in the street. This would have been considerably more dangerous and traumatic for me.
Since I left that situation, I have engaged in sex work consensually, using Craigslist and Backpage. I had been out of work due to a disability but had not yet been able to receive government disability benefits, so when I needed money I went back to sex work.
People use Backpage and other advertisers for various reasons. It can be as innocuous as wanting some extra spending money or to cover the bills, or as immediate and necessary as being homeless and trying to avoid sleeping on the streets. People can also place coercive ads for others on the sites, but even in those cases, shutting down the venue will not help the problem. In fact, it will probably make it worse.
Madeleine, sex worker and SWOP Member