SWOP-Chicago Responds to Backpage Shutdown

Please join SWOP-Chicago and Support Ho(s)e in protest.

Noon on Wednesday, January 18th

Picasso Sculpture, 50 W Washington Blvd.

Details are here on the Facebook event page.

The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Chicago protests the United States government pressure that caused Backpage.com to censor its Adult content section on January 9th.  Many members of our community will no longer be able to pay their rent, purchase food, or afford medical bills because a crucial source of their income has been eliminated.  This Wednesday, we will be sharing our shock and dismay with Sheriff Tom Dart, who has been an integral part of this dangerous drive to force the sex industry underground.

Backpage was a low-cost and low-barrier means through which many sex workers advertise.  Because it did not discriminate based on gender, race, or class, it was an especially important place of advertising for the most marginalized members of our community: LGBTQ sex workers, sex workers of color, and unstably housed sex workers.  These individuals may now have to rely on third parties or on street-based venues to work.  With Backpage no longer an option to advertise, they may be working on the Chicago winter streets during the writing of this press release.

SWOP understands the need to address sex trafficking.  But Tom Dart and the United States government have made it clear that pressuring Backpage is not really about trafficking.  Their narrow focus on sex has too often eclipsed other forms of human trafficking, such as trafficking in the agriculture, domestic labor, or garment industries.  Moreover, as sex workers, some of us may be able to recognize victims of trafficking and get them the help they need.  The government should be working with us to target trafficking, not working against us as we attempt to make a living with our work.

Though disappointed by the recent government actions, we are not surprised by them.  In Chicago, Tom Dart has long declared an all-out war on Backpage, without any consideration of how this may affect how and where people work. Tom Dart’s efforts to criminalize johns and shutter advertising for sex workers are misguided.  They will only serve to push the sex trade further underground, distancing workers from human, legal, and economic services.  His actions may also ramp up secretive efforts by organized crime.

Sex workers are nothing if not resourceful.  We will find new advertising venues and new resources.  But in the meantime, many members of our community are sadly struggling just to survive.

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