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Red Alert: The Feds Shut Down an Escort Site

Last month, thousands of Californians lost their jobs overnight. On June 25, I began getting frantic phone calls from friends and colleagues about the shutdown of the sex work advertising platform, MyRedbook.com. By the afternoon, I had reporters calling me asking for comment. By the early evening, I was in tears. News outlets reported what the sex worker grapevine had already been buzzing with rumors of: The FBI had shut down MyRedbook and raided the Mountain View home of the two people who had allegedly been running the site.

The loss of the website rocked the sex worker community in a way I had not yet seen in my career. Some began referring to it as "Hooker-pocalypse." With the end of the month fast approaching, sex workers had tuition, rent, and bills to pay, and many are still fearful that the shutdown of MyRedbook will be financially devastating for them.

Sex work is a career that I love, but for many people, it is a means of survival in an economy that has betrayed them. College graduates and entry-level workers alike have struggled to find ways to stay employed in the wake of the 2008 Recession, which claimed a staggering 8 million jobs. Here in the Bay Area, the cost of living keeps going up and people have had to get creative in order to bring home a paycheck. For some, that has meant slapping a pink mustache on their car and driving for Lyft on Friday nights, and for others that has meant placing an ad on MyRedbook.

With a clunky 1990s interface, MyRedbook was probably one of the least user-friendly platforms around, but it was used heavily by workers and clients up and down the West Coast. Other websites, such as Slixa.com, offer sexy layouts, intuitive interfaces, and articles written by providers, but MyRedbook, which has been around since the early 2000s, offered web traffic that was hard to beat. Several local sex workers I spoke to said that the majority of their clients came from MyRedbook. Free advertising was another feature that set MyRedbook apart from other sites, and made the site accessible to economically vulnerable sex workers. For some, MyRedbook was an opportunity to interact and negotiate with clients from the safety of their homes rather than on the streets.

MyRedbook was not just an advertising platform, but also a resource for sex workers to screen potential clients. Without resources for adequate screening and safety procedures, I fear my community will be forced to make riskier choices in order to feed their families and pay their bills.

Now, many sex workers are afraid to work, and even more fearful to take on new clients. Even the sharing of safety protocols and information between us must be done carefully and discreetly for fear of law enforcement interference. Under trafficking legislation like Proposition 35, sharing information on how to background-check clients and work safely is considered criminal activity, and the latest FBI raid has been a terrifying reminder of the realities of having our work criminalized.

This is not the first time sex workers have been faced with the shutdown of a major advertising platform. 2009 brought the end of the Craigslist Erotic Services section and Backpage.com has also battled with law enforcement in recent years. The crusades against online advertising of adult services purport to be in the name of cracking down on underage prostitution and child sex trafficking. Of course, even one child forced into prostitution is too many, but there must be a more efficient way to combat trafficking. Shutting down an entire website that was a business tool for many adults who were doing legal and consensual work is like using a hacksaw for a job that requires a scalpel.

"Sex workers want to end trafficking," Patricia West, spokesperson for the Bay Area chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, said in a statement following the MyRedbook shutdown.

"The answer is the decriminalization of prostitution, which would effectively end the black market, and give workers the ability to unionize and report crimes committed against and around us," West continued. She argued that if sex work could be a legal profession, "it would then be much easier to see the difference between choice and coercion or force."

If given the opportunity, adult sex workers could be law enforcement's greatest ally when it comes to combating trafficking. But instead, sex workers' livelihoods and safety are continually put at risk. The shutdown of MyRedbook won't eradicate trafficking on the West Coast, but it will ensure that local sex workers fear for their safety and economic futures.

To listen to this week's accompanying podcast, check it out on thewhorecast.com.

 
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19 comments
liljennypocket
liljennypocket

Thank you for this. Thank you for saying what is always overlooked when something like this happens. It's unfortunate that the feds and sex workers can't be allies. 

kristamorning
kristamorning

Thank you love. I've had an eye on you for a while and this article really spoke to me :)

kristamorning
kristamorning

fuck off prudes. The adults that used this site had nothing to do with child trafficking.

epronline
epronline

there are still many alternatives including www.eroticpostreviews.com 

SorryNotSorry
SorryNotSorry

As an individual who lives in an apartment directly below an apartment in one of the buildings where this was going on, I'm appreciative that the FBI and/or police are handling this situation. The girl (girls, we found out later) above me used MyRedbook to conduct their business. I'm glad it has been taken care of, at least for now, since the other day as I waited at a bus stop, one of the girls I recognized immediately as one that did not live in my building, but who frequently used the apartment above me as the liaison place to service her clients, met up with a man on a nearby corner and together they approached the hotel across the street.  In addition, while the girls (they appeared quite young) used the apartment above me for their MyRedbook business, there was a near constant stream of unfamiliar men accidentally knocking on my door at random times, sometimes very late at night because they exited the elevator at the wrong floor. Frequently I would notice strange men going in and out of the building and roaming the halls, sometimes at all hours. In the elevators and lobby I'd run into women who appeared young enough to be under 18, who didn't know their way around the building, did not speak much English, and seemed terrified if I asked if I could help them or inquired what they were doing in the building. Thus, for almost a year while the investigation was going on, I had to deal with my upstairs neighbor(s) servicing clients all day (when I was home) and through most of the night. So, you know, perspective is key.

yaynorth123
yaynorth123

I wonder what the next substitute for myredbook might be


http://bit.ly/1gDYU64 I know sites like these kinda state the obvious but it seems the internet world is full of alternatives.

Lydia Sigo
Lydia Sigo

Your sex columnist doesn't seem concerned about trafficking or underage prostitution at all. The fact is that it is not legal, so there are not any safeguards in place. So yeah, it needs to be shut down. "Poor Backpage, getting harassed by the cops" that is sick!

Joslyn Renee Severns
Joslyn Renee Severns

I'm from Australia where escort services are all legal, the states are soooooo far behind. Lame Yanks!!!!

Lala Bean
Lala Bean

I am so glad. When I was a stripper in 2002 in San Francisco I made it on that list. Some guy complain because I charged too much for a private room. You damn right I did. Strippers are allowed to make their own prices and I'm an expensive lady. Im no cheap hooker. Besides, guys were posting on there if they got pissed off at their ex lovers that were on that page where worked at a strip club. Or if a guy didn't get the girl they wanted they made of shit about her on that site. So it was full of shit. It also was very dangerous for those in the sex industry and adult industry. Any website that outs people's personal information when they are in that business is not good. I was part of an organization that helped change the law where you have to wear condoms on the set of porn. I'm a former porn actress and I was treated like crap for the 10 years I was in it. And I went back and got justice. The law is now in effect whether people follow it or not they do get fined or they get shut down just like kink.com

Justin Ahlstrom
Justin Ahlstrom

And now back to back ally drug addled child prostitutes. Good move morons.

Rn Cr
Rn Cr

Hoes always getting hated on.

Sprigless
Sprigless

If advertising on MyRedbook was free, how did the site make money?

 
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