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Like many ostensible anti-trafficking efforts, this will do very little to actually affect human trafficking.It will, however, impact free speech, and serve to make many sex workers’ lives more difficult.Backpage is used in over 80 countries; because credit card companies’ reach is global, their cutting off service to the site affects sex workers worldwide, including those whose work is legal in their jurisdictions.And what the site itself was doing was legally protected, as courts had found time and time again. Anti-sex work advocates were thrilled with the response, hailing the circumvention of due process as a “progressive” way of going after the site since everything else they had tried had failed to stand up to scrutiny.He wrote letters to the top executives of Visa and Master Card, asking them to suspend payment processing to Backpage for “moral, social and legal reasons…to help protect vulnerable and victimized women and children.” This tactic worked, faster than even Dart could have dared to dream.
Nor do these policies actually aid survivors of trafficking in the sex industry.
Dart himself declared it “a great day for all who are engaged in the anti-sex trafficking struggle,” since the companies pulling out would “make the average trafficker or pimp’s life much more difficult.” If anything, the new restrictions will make it easier for the few traffickers or pimps on Backpage to hide, by making it so that people can only pay for advertising via anonymous means instead of traceable ones with their names and information attached.
But efforts to combat sex work under the guise of trafficking are often counterproductive to their stated purpose.
Public shaming didn’t work, and attempts to shut down the site failed both legislatively and in the court system.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects websites from being held responsible for outside content published by its users; attempts to amend or strike down this part of the law in Congress were fought as attacks on free speech, and the law remained unchanged.Politicians may not see this as an issue, but all of us should.