Friday, May 15, 2009

To serve and... protect?

As Carnal Nation recently put it, "sex on the Internet changed yesterday when Craigslist finally caved to pressure from law enforcement and announced that they would close down their "erotic services" ads, which have become indispensable to many sex workers in finding and screening clients. Although the cable channels and web pages are filled with chatter today about the implications of Craigslist's decision, one block of voices are very noticeably missing: the sex workers themselves."

I've largely come to agree with Craiglist's critics that the site, when used to network for intimate partners (professional or otherwise), has degenerated from a useful social resource to an "amateur hotdog stand." But with my sense of socio-sexual politics, I've still always enjoyed the organic, grassroots, anarchic nature of the site. Its impact upon print media advertising alone demonstrates, in my view, the power of social change when people employ alternative resources to achieve their goals.

Not that those goals need always be 'high minded.' Me, I get a kick out of the "erotic services" section of Craigslist, and for the same reason I loved the back pages of Screw magazine and the Village Voice when I was a kid, or Toronto's NOW and Eye Weekly zines: I think sex worker advertisements are fun to read and titillating in themselves alone. Call it a literary voyeurism. In fact, CL listings with images of the workers themselves are, for me (and perhaps you), deliciously amusing viewing for amateur, girl-next-door eyecandy, and it's been in that spirit that previous photo essay posts on this blog sometimes included saucy images gathered from CL "erotic services" listings for cities like Chicago, New York, and Montreal.

But that's just me having a little fun. The inconveniences to my personal entertainment, should Craiglist altogether ban such listings and/or images over the next week, are nothing compared to the changes that the sex workers themselves may be facing.

"Eliminating erotic listings as Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and others propose will only drive us further underground," they argue. "Policing the masseuses, phone workers, pro-dominants, and escorts using Craigslist fails to protect those of us who are coerced into the sex industry. Preventing the use of Craigslist advertisements also eliminates the advantage of screening clients online, which makes for a safer work experience by filtering out potentially dangerous individuals. Furthermore, keeping us offline hinders police investigations of violent crime. In the Boston murder of Julissa Brisman (not pictured - R.), it was online tracking that enabled the police to identify the suspect. One has to wonder: are the Attorneys General examining the evidence or simply enforcing their moral values?"

Craiglist's response is to terminate its "erotic services" section and replace it with an "adult services" section that, ostensibly, will be more directly monitored by CL people (replacing its own self-cleaning "flagging" system) and be available for a fee (at twice the current rate). Some sex worker advocates are arguing that, apart from the fee increase, this won't result in any significant change to the section, and that the entire approach is a "Band-Aid" public relations ploy. argues that Craiglist's capitulation will do nothing to stop sex work itself, and that many other internet resources exist for "service providers." While that is true, Carnal Nation counters that "Craigslist narrowed the class divide since (until very recently) posting there was free. (Other sites charge) about $150 to advertise... Craigslist’s low cost made it possible for people to do sex work casually, when they needed to supplement their regular income, rather than as a steady activity."

But others, including a variety of sex worker rights organizations, are suggesting that the move may place sex workers at increased risk, and point out that it was the use of Craigslist that enabled law enforcement to identity and capture clients who have posed a risk to the sex workers themselves in the past. Advocacy organizations such as Sex Work Awareness and the Sex Workers' Outreach Project are encouraging Americans to write their local representatives and newspapers.

To me, it's a no-brainer that sex workers deserve to engage in activities with an expectation to safety, not because they are sex workers, but because they are people. There are enough contradictory variances everywhere as to their legal status that to suggest that they are undeserving of protection by virtue of their work choices becomes a baseless argument. As sex workers themselves are stating that a resource like Craigslist, however banal, helps them live and work safely, how can law enforcement argue that compromising that is a means to protect them?

Here in Canada, prostitution in itself is not illegal, although "keeping a bawdy house" and "solicitation in a public place" is. Email and telephone discussion for the purpose of exchanging money for sex is not a crime, and this is likely one of the reasons why a resource such as Craigslist would be so valuable to someone involved in this trade. Craigslist, which is international, has released no statement to suggest that their policy changes will vary for locations outside United States cities.


Anonymous said...

Right, and these people are allowed to continue advertising in craigslist:

Or better yet, multiple submissions for this piece of homophobic, misogynistic trash:

Rogue said...

I once testified at a hearing in Rhode Island where a pagan spiritual group was seeking 501.c.3 tax exemption status, and they hit a snag because of a previous, similar group from the 1970s which (as far as the court was concerned) was little more than a front for a swinger's club. The group I was assisting won their case, but not before it could be demonstrated that their practices didn't involve sexual activity. While most pagan groups I've encountered in my life consist of very sensual, and often sex-positive, people, I think its safe to say that most self-respecting groups of that nature aren't out to just get in your pants.

But, you know, I really hope to God that this Dimitri guy is a put-on. I may just have to drop by one of events some day.

Thanx for commenting.