Sex-Trafficking Victims Hurt Most by Senator's Crusade Against Classified Ads

Closing sites like puts trafficking victims at even more risk.


According to the logic of many lawmakers, those engaged in prostitution are always victims. And once you have victims, you need victimizers—people who can be heroically beaten back by courageous law enforcement personnel. Generally, the victimizers are identified as sex traffickers or pimps. But a bill from Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) targets another popular bete noire: classified advertisers.

Kirk's bill, S. Res. 439, singles out for Congressional censure. is the second largest online classified section in the U.S., after Craigslist.* Kirk's bill doesn't actually outlaw the site, which would be very difficult because of First Amendment protections. But the hope seems to be that negative publicity will cause the site's owners to shutter Backpage, or at least its "adult" listings section, just as Craigslist closed its erotic services listings in 2010 under similarly concerted pressure.

Kirk says that sites like Backpage "facilitate sex trafficking." His bill is part of the battle against this "modern day slavery." Kirk's website throws around numerous frightening and dubious statistics, such as a claim that 300,000 children are "at risk of being trafficked for sex in the United States" every year—a figure from a 2011 study which refers to children who have the potential to be trafficked, not to actual victims." It also declares that "the Internet is the #1 platform in the U.S. for advertising prostitution," a factoid which seems both feasible and inconsequential. More and more commerce is being done online; why should that be any different for adult services?

The implication, of course, is that the Internet makes prostitution more dangerous and exploitive. But is it really less safe for women to advertise online than (as one obvious alternative) to work on the street?

Terra Burns, the author of a report on sex work in Alaska, says that closing outlets like puts women more at risk. "I don't think that getting rid of advertising mediums is helpful to anybody," Burns says. "It's harmful to people who are doing sex work at the most survival level, who can't afford more expensive advertising venues and are forced out on the street. And it's harmful for sex trafficking victims who are also potentially forced out onto the street."

"Those are the people who are affected the most by this kind of thing," Burns added. "It's not some evil sex trafficker, because he … can deal with changes in the market."

Backpage is currently being sued by some trafficking victims for contributing to their exploitation. Yet many law enforcement officials admit, reluctantly, that Backpage is actually very helpful in their work catching sex traffickers. Clearwater, Florida, Police Chief Anthony Holloway, for example, declared that Backpage "needs to be shut down" while contradictorily acknowledging that "it's a good investigative tool for us right now for trafficking." He also admitted that, if the site were shut down, advertisers would simply move to other, less regulated venues.

Mistress Matisse, a Seattle dominatrix and sex-worker rights advocate, agrees that Kirk's bill would neither stop traffickers nor help victims. "To the extent that they actually exist, actual traffickers will just advertise elsewhere, or put people on the street," Matisse says. "And people just trying to get money for food and shelter will have to resort to even more dangerous means as well." Matisse argues that "if Kirk really wants to help people, he should be fighting for more anti-poverty programs and homeless shelters, especially teenage homeless programs."

Burns suggests that lawmakers look at "coercion by police officers" and discrimination in accessing public services. "In my survey a lot of [sex workers] were discriminated against in accessing shelter," she said,  "but of the people who were sex trafficking victims, 100 percent of them were denied emergency shelter."

The survey didn't provide detailed information about why victims had trouble with the shelters, but some respondents did tell Burns that they were turned away because of where they met the people they were seeking shelter from (presumably, while selling sexual services). Burns comments, "when someone's a sex-trafficking victim and they're seeking emergency shelter, and you deny them that shelter, you're most likely causing them to continue to be sex trafficked."

It's notable that both Burns and Matisse offer solutions aimed at empowering victims, rather than a villain to scapegoat. If you want to help marginalized people, you need to stop marginalizing them, not talk of rescue while driving victims—and their abusers—further underground.

Decent treatment for stigmatized populations does't fit easily into a heroic narrative, however. So instead, Kirk bravely goes after Backpage. It's almost like the real crime here is not trafficking, but visibility. Sex workers who can't advertise are sex workers you can't see—which makes it easier to portray them all as victims in need of heroes.

* This article originally stated that was owned by Village Voice Media (VVM). The company actually split from Backpage in 2012.

NEXT: Baylen Linnekin Interviews the Sponsor of Wyoming's Food Freedom Act

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46 responses to “Sex-Trafficking Victims Hurt Most by Senator's Crusade Against Classified Ads

  1. Sex trafficking sounds so terrible! We’ve got to do something! What? You mean escorts? But, but, but… trafficking!

    1. What’s really embarrassing is that we’ve been down this road before. Except last time it was called white slavery and a lot of the pols who passed these laws were honest about it being a way to fuck with undesirables.

    2. I’ve made $64,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student. I’m using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I’ve been doing,

      1. For once, I can see the connection between tye spamtroll and the post topic….

        1. Help put a girl through college.

          1. With our penisey, and cash.

    3. Well how the hell else am I supposed to find my Backpage whores?

      1. Message boards like everyone else, you elitist scum.

    4. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do

  2. ” Matisse argues that “if Kirk really wants to help people, he should be fighting for more anti-poverty programs and…”

    Because all of those programs have proven so successful.

    “Burns suggests that lawmakers look at “coercion by police officers” and discrimination in accessing public services.”

    This would be a good idea for several reasons and would have a positive impact on many people and communities. Therefore there’s no chance of it happening.

  3. It’s notable that both Burns and Matisse offer solutions aimed at empowering victims, rather than a villain to scapegoat.

    What’s the point of being a hero if there are no victims and villains? Burns and Matisse would know that there is none if they were heroes.

  4. “There is a greater need in South Africa for this type of procedure than elsewhere in the world, as many young men lose their penises every year due to complications from traditional circumcision.”

    I’m bored. Let’s talk about the story that “as many as 250 penis amputations take place every year across South Africa.” What are they doing over there?

    1. I don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re doing it wrong.

      1. Sure about that ?

    2. I hope the guy who paid for that penis transplant didn’t get shortchanged.

      I’ll be here all week.

      Tip your waitress.

      1. The veal is tasty!
        I’m sure it was veal.

    3. Remember how your mom told you to never run with scissors? Yeah…

      1. Especially when naked!

    4. Is that a high number? A low number? How many guys lose their mini-me in, say, Canada? The Asiatics?

      I must know. Tell me more about penises.

  5. Are they categorizing every case of advertising voluntary services basically as “trafficking” too?

    This, like the SAVE act, Operation Chokepoint, and a whole variety of laws infringes not just on individual rights in general, but implicitly on free speech while maintaining the facade of free speech. It just takes some hysteria. That in turn can be used for social engineering, where regardless of an organization’s own ideaology, these laws create liability issues for them.

    1. For example, NY and CA a year or so ago, along with other states have passed laws that make people like taxi cab drivers or someone providing housing liable for human trafficking, where they’d also end up on the sex-offender registry if they knowingly help a prostitute.

      1. Never err on the side of liberty. That’s what I teach my daughter.

      2. They should also sue the auto manufactures, who made the cars that the taxi drivers use to facilitate the sex trafficking.

  6. I do not understand why prostitution is illegal. Why should prostitution be illegal. Selling is legal. Fucking is legal. Why isn’t selling fucking legal? You know, why should it be illegal to sell something that’s perfectly legal to give away?


    1. Because the bible says so…

    2. And why have we never had a prostitution based MLM? Just about everything else has been made intO a multi level marketing business. Why not pimping/whoring.

      1. Because us whores are much too independent to be associated with mlm businesses. We do what we want when we want with whom we want. We are like cats- hard to herd.

        1. +1 I have the pussy, I make the rules.

        2. Well, pimpin’ ain’t easy. I guess that’s why anything goes when it comes to ho’s.

  7. Somewhat off topic (not really since they pushed strongly against prostitution in the 1910s until it was banned) but my god, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is still around and kicking.

  8. How appropriate Lincoln is in the background of that photo.

  9. So… the editors of the village voice are engaging in sex trafficking?

    1. So says Ashton Kutcher.

      He cares about this topic. A lot. On Twitter.

  10. We already have laws against selling sex, buying sex, pimping, kidnapping, false imprisonment, underage sex, illegal border crossing, avoiding tax, laundering money and who knows what else that could be used to nail traffickers. Why yet another bunch of laws?

    1. Because freedom…

  11. Going after dopers is getting less popular every day. “Victims of dope” just doesn’t have the effect it once did. So look for some other “victims of…” to arise. We do have all those police. They need victims in order to keep policing.

    The one thing that might possibly help: “victims of police”.

  12. my neighbor’s step-sister makes $68 an hour on the internet . She has been fired for 8 months but last month her pay check was $12106 just working on the internet for a few hours. check here…………………..

    1. Well, now we know how she is makinG all that money.

  13. As a person living in Illinois, I must apologize. I know our democrat senators are subhuman alien spawn, But there’s just no excuse for the republicans to be such utter douche bags. I don’t know if that stroke improved him or not. Even though he was a statist like everybody else in the 50’s and 60’s, at least Everett Dirksen wasn’t such a little twat.

    1. Restoring the Dream|3.14.15 @ 6:30PM|#
      “As a person living in Illinois, I must apologize.”

      If I had to do that every time there was a CA article, I’d never do anything else.

      1. WA is getting that bad too.

  14. You know what would stop sex trafficking in its tracks – mandatory RFID chipping.

    Then we could tell who was a citizen and who wasn’t, who has left their area of domicile, if they’re frequenting a ‘known location of prostitutes’, etc.

    Add in internal visas and we have a great system to combat trafficking. With RFID detectors all over the place even the unchipped could be easily found.

      1. I hope those RFID chips don’t cause any “noisome or grievous sores” on those who have them. Then we’d have to mark two boxes on the tribulation checklist.

        BTW the oldest manuscripts have the true number of the beast as 616.

  15. Paraguayan cop pictured dancing with nude woman at city police station amid cries of constant ‘orgies’ at station house…..-1.2127599

  16. Paraguayan cop pictured dancing with nude woman at city police station amid cries of constant ‘orgies’ at station house…..-1.2127599

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