Website ended adult content ads amid government pressure, which some say will make it harder for officials to investigate trafficking and support victims
The shutdown of the adult classifieds section on Backpage.com will endanger the lives of sex workers and make it harder for officials to investigate trafficking and support victims, civil rights advocates said.
Backpage, a popular Craigslist-style website where workers have long advertised a range of services, announced on Monday that unconstitutional government censorship has forced the company to remove its adult content. The closure comes after prosecutors across the US have aggressively targeted the site and its executives, claiming that Backpage facilitates and profits from pimping and human trafficking.
But sex workers have long argued that Backpage provides a safe public platform to vet clients and report predators, and that without it, the industry will be pushed further underground. On Tuesday, activists said the termination had removed a source of income for many vulnerable people and would force some with no choice but to work on the streets where they are much more likely to face violence and police harassment.
A lot of lives are being destroyed, said Kristen DiAngelo, executive director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Sacramento. These are human and civil rights abuses. How many sex workers across the US now have no way to support themselves?
Newly elected US senator Kamala Harris led the fight against Backpage as Californias attorney general, repeatedly filing charges against the sites operators, claiming the platform was an online brothel. But judges across the country have continually sided with the website and first amendment advocates, citing a law that is foundational to free speech on the internet, which dictates that platforms are not liable for the postings of users.
Despite the legal victories, including the supreme courts decision on Monday not to hear an appeal against Backpage, the US Senate has intensified scrutiny of the company with a report and hearing on Tuesday, leading the site to replace its adult section with a banner that reads CENSORED.
Targeting Backpage, activists say, is part of a broader campaign by liberal and conservative lawmakers in America to further criminalize sex work, which research has shown does little to protect victims of trafficking while making it harder for consenting adult workers to safely do their job.