The decision is being protested by many sex workers and victims of sex trafficking.
Just hours before a Senate Committee hearing on Monday regarding legislation to prevent Backpage.com from continuing with adult content, the classifieds website shut down U.S. access to the adult listings altogether. The move may seem smart in light of the upcoming hearing, but the site begrudgingly complied, as is evidenced by the message that pops up when trying to access adult content:
“The government has unconstitutionally censored this content.”
Lawmakers and victims of sex trafficking have been pushing for this move for several years, and with a recent Senate allegation accusing the site of shielding human and child trafficking from authorities it seems that this decision would have been forced onto the site eventually.
Despite some victims rejoicing at this news, many are upset at the consequences of such a decision. Some argue that the removal of adult content and ads means that the sex trade will move deeper into the abyss and result in sex workers, who used the safety of Backpage to advertise their services, having to return to the streets.
While it’s undeniable that a number of trafficked human beings wind up in ads on the site, the site has continuously worked to bring the cases brought to their attention to justice, something that many others have confirmed. A note from someone within the Denver Police Department read,
“I know your company is vilified nationally because it is an easy target. I have told numerous people that Backpage is law enforcement friendly and does not support human trafficking.”
Children of the Night, an organization that works to recover children forced into prostitution, have called Backpage a “vital resource” and an “investigative tool” used by law enforcement nationwide to help find exploited and kidnapped children.
While some remain on-the-fence about this decision, sex workers are worried about their future now that their main source of income has disappeared suddenly. Low-income sex workers must now return to the streets, which is extremely dangerous and encourages rape or arrests more than anything, or fork up money for the cost of membership fees on adult sites elsewhere, something which most can’t afford.
Those that oppose sex work in general say that the removal of adult services is not the same thing as a violation of freedom of speech, as Lori Cohen of Sanctuary for Families told Newsweek,
“The predatory sale of human beings for sex via the Internet is not speech; it is rape,” despite the sex workers voluntarily using this method to make a living.
This isn’t the first time that Backpage has been attacked, and similar sites have suffered so much in the past from moves like these that they have completely shut down. The site myRedbook closed in 2014 after similar attacks and Craiglist removed their adult services section in 2010. That’s why Backpage has become such an important resource since these closures, but this change is actually one of many huge shifts forced on their site. In 2015, Visa and Mastercard shut down any transactions attempted through the site, preventing many customers from accessing anything from the site, regardless of whether it was sex-related or not.
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