Last Friday, the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service seized the website Backpage.com in a bid to halt its personal ads.
The federal agencies were investigating claims that the personal ads were used to solicit or offer escort services. They froze the site and its affiliated links before the weekend under the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act.
While the move was applauded by many, it could have a negative effect on sex workers.
According to The Guardian, the site allowed sex workers to screen potential online clients before meeting them in person. It was a simple layer of safety without resorting to pimps for protection. These deals, that were once handled online, will now be pushed back into the open streets, leaving women on their own to protect themselves.
Sex workers see the crackdown as a return to more dangerous times.
The 35-year-old mom doesn’t want to go back on the street to work and fears what may happen next.
“This bill is creating an actual market for pimps,” she says. “People don’t know if they are going to be able to pay rent … how they are going to afford food.”
A sex worker told The Cut, “Right now, the focus is on finding the next Backpage. Once there’s a vacuum like this, something will come to fill it. The demand in the market for commercial sex is never going to stop.”
Opponents say the legislation raises the stakes and leaves an already vulnerable community more at risk for abuse, exploitation or worse.