Whore Next Door: The Crime of Real Pleasure

Last weekend, as I sat sipping mimosas with a dozen or so fellow sex workers, someone raised their voice above the friendly din of chitchat with breaking news. A sex worker in South Carolina had just been arrested on 21 counts of prostitution — based on nothing more than her escort ad.

The mood shifted from warm Sunday brunch vibes to tense terror as our peer relayed the chilling details: no set-up, no sting — the cops just tracked her IP address, searched her home, and arrested her. The only evidence against this woman exists online.

Making matters worse, a few local news outlets have covered the arrest, disrespectfully reporting the worker's real name and mug shot, so this poor woman's face is now all over the news in North Augusta, S.C.

The past few years have seen a rise in attacks from the federal government on online advertising platforms such as MyRedbook.com and Rentboy.com, the latter of which is still embroiled in the fight.

These platforms put valuable time and distance between sex workers and their clients. With little access to justice when they are the victims of violent crimes, the internet is an important resource for them to stay safe. Moreover, when workers take charge of their own booking, screening, and advertising, they are less likely to rely on third parties and are therefore less vulnerable to those who may seek to exploit them.

The South Carolina woman is accused of advertising sex for money this winter on Backpage.com — the site for which Visa and MasterCard recently ceased processing adult ad payments — but from everything that I've read, the language and photos that incriminated her could have come from the average Tinder profile.

Relatively mild, suggestive language — such as “real pleasure” and “couples welcome” — could get this woman thrown in jail. Somehow, I don't think any cops will be beating down the door of my Tinder match, Enrique, whose profile simply reads, “I'm going to fuck you the way you've been wanting to get fucked.” Why is it legal to advertise for free sex on one website, but illegal to advertise for paid companionship on another?

In a world where strangers can find each other online, exchange dick pics in a matter of seconds, and meet for sex that could involve whips, chains, and maybe even superhero uniforms, why does it all become criminal activity if somebody pulls out their wallet?

If words and phrases like “appointments” and “kinky fun” on a website are enough evidence to obtain a search warrant, then I'm scared in a new way — and not just for sex workers, but for all of us who use the internet to connect with other humans (i.e., everyone).

If sexually suggestive photos and language like “ready to meet gentleman” constitute a threat to homeland security, then the FBI had better be going after Tinder, Grindr, OkCupid — and potentially even FarmersOnly and ChristianMingle, just to be safe — because dating sites are riddled with that kind of salaciousness.

Policing the way people connect to find intimacy and companionship is not only a waste of valuable resources, it's a symptom of a dystopian Big Brother.

When I became an escort four years ago, my compatriots passed down the lore of protective spells and coded language they had learned from those who had come before them. “Never let him between you and the door,” “If you ask him if he's a cop, he has to tell you,” and other old-wives' tales passed down through the generations, sooth us into thinking we have some way of protecting ourselves from the police.

News of this South Carolina woman's arrest has made me realize that we don't. As long as sex work is criminalized, only luck, prayer, and privilege can save some of us from arrest.

It's perfectly legal to hire someone for their time and companionship, which is why so many of us advertise as escorts. But the veneer of safety enjoyed by sex workers privileged enough to advertise online is crumbling.

Police can rape and brutalize us during the course of an arrest — all in the name of rescue — and we have little recourse. Now that law enforcement is coming after individual sex workers based only on the way they advertise online, that threat has come into our homes.

Cops aren't vampires. They can still come in even if you don't invite them, and magic words won't keep them away.

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