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How a Crusading Chicago Sheriff Convinced Visa and Mastercard to Screw Sex Workers

Bitcoin is now the only means of paying for adult ads on the popular web classifieds site Backpage.com.

Reyner Media/FlickrReyner Media/FlickrTwo major credit card companies this week announced that they will refuse to process payments for "adult" ads on the popular advertising site Backpage.com. Mastercard said Tuesday that it would no longer process these payments; on Wednesday, Visa followed suit. Since American Express did the same earlier this year, that leaves Bitcoin as the only current means of paying for adult ads on Backpage.

Both Visa and Mastercard decided to stop processing the payments upon request from Thomas Dart, a Cook County, Illinois, sheriff on a crusade against Backpage.com. "We have objectively found [sites like Backpage] promote prostitution and facilitate online sex trafficking," he wrote in a letter to the credit card companies. "Institutions such as yours have the moral, social and legal right to step up on this pervasive problem and make a fundamental and everlasting difference."

As you can see, Dart makes little distinction between "sex trafficking"—generally understood to mean forced or coerced commercial sexual activity—and the much more common phenomenon of consensual prostitution. It's a common conflation, backed by the idea that women are such brainless, innocent creatures we’re unable to have sex for reasons other than pleasure or romance; the idea of actually profiting from men’s desire to have sex with us would never enter our fluffy, pink little brains. So, even if a woman says she’s doing sex work voluntarily, she’s either lying or suffering from "Stockholm syndrome," and has actually been coerced by a "pimp."

Nevermind that the racially-charged stereotypical "pimp" is so rare he might as well be a chupacabra, and that even among underage sex workers only about 16 percent have ever even met a pimp (much less worked with one). Loudmouthed cops, radical feminists, religious fanatics, and other ignoramuses who wouldn’t be caught dead talking to a sex worker like me say that we’re all dominated by "pimps" and the media obediently regurgitates whatever the prohibitionists feed them. And so laws designed to restrict the only profession which is absolutely dominated (both economically and socially) by women are disguised as valiant efforts to "rescue" fainting damsels from mustache-twirling villains, and everyone but sex workers, our families, and our clients can pat themselves on the back.

Sheriff Dart’s crusade against sex workers is by no means limited to Backpage, nor is it merely the product of his own pearl-clutching brain. It is the result of a long-running collaboration between him and billionaire moralist Swanee Hunt, who has pursued her own private vendetta against us by bankrolling sex-work stings for several years now. Though these whore hunts are billed as the "National Day of Johns Arrests" and sold as a way to end "demand" for commercial sex by targeting clients, sex workers make up 97 percent of prostitution-related felony convictions in Cook County, a 68 percent increase since 2008. Though centered in Chicago, the program now infests 10 cities and will no doubt expand as far as Hunt’s money can carry it.

Of course, it's not just sex workers and their clients that are harmed by the new national "War on Whores." (Laws designed to restrict and persecute one despised minority absolutely never remain confined to that minority; they are rapidly expanded to others.) Like the War on Drugs, it provides all sorts of opportunities for police-state expansion and the long-term erosion of Americans' civil rights.

Under the guise of going after "sex trafficking," prohibitionist politicians have been trying and failing to shut down Backpage—a commercial enterprise which has broken no laws—since at least 2011. The free speech implications alone are horrifying. And Sheriff Dart’s pressuring Visa and Mastercard to reject adult-ad payments is nothing less than an end run around due process which affects not only his own fiefdom of Chicago, but every single place Backpage reaches via the Internet.

The strategy is part of a larger and more troubling trend of government circumventing due process and exceeding legal authority by pressuring large corporations to do its dirty work. And the more often this strategy succeeds, the more politicians will employ it.

Remember Operation Choke Point, the Department of Justice program designed to strangle disfavored businesses (including gun dealers, payday lenders, and of course porn and escort services) by bullying payment processors into cutting them off? The administration retreated from the program after it was heavily criticized in the business media, but if any two-bit tyrant like Dart can basically implement the exact same strategy, it will be Choke Point multiplied many times over.

Dart’s crusade is supported by absolutely nothing but lies and propaganda, and his rationales have been rejected time and again by federal courts, yet with a mere letter he can inflict his warped desire upon a major internet company and cut off the income of tens of thousands of sex workers who have depended on that company for advertising. Of course, this won’t "stop prostitution," no matter what Dart and his accomplices pretend. Whores found clients for millennia without the Internet, and before long those who advertise on Backpage will either find a new venue or learn to disguise their ads as something other than escorting (just as they did when Craigslist shut down its adult ad section under government pressure; now sex workers simply use the site's "personals" section). But if this newest expansion of the power of costumed clowns to ruin the lives of others by signing a piece of paper doesn’t bother you, I have to wonder if you’re even awake.

Photo Credit: Reyner Media/Flickr

Maggie McNeill was a librarian in suburban New Orleans, but after an acrimonious divorce economic necessity inspired her to take up sex work; from 1997 to 2006 she worked first as a stripper, then as a call girl and madam. She eventually married her favorite client and retired to a ranch in Oklahoma, but began escorting part-time again in 2010 and full-time again early in 2015 after another divorce (this time amicable). She has been a sex worker rights activist since 2004, and since 2010 has written a daily blog, The Honest Courtesan, which examines the realities, myths, history, lore, science, philosophy, art, and every other aspect of prostitution.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "We have objectively found [sites like Backpage] promote prostitution and facilitate online sex trafficking," he wrote in a letter to the credit card companies.

    Chicago-area law enforcement are known for their objectivity.

  • MichaelL||

    Hard to tell who is doing the f^cking and who is getting f*cked, nowadays!

  • MichaelL||

    Hard to tell who is doing the f^cking and who is getting f*cked, nowadays!

  • MichaelL||

    Honest, I only pushed the submit button once!

  • retiredfire||

    My mouse does the occasional "phantom second click", on its own, too.

  • croaker||

    Shitcago law enforcement are known for putting a gun in someone's mouth and saying "sign the confession or your brains will decorate my wall."

  • Kristen’s Vermeer||

    I was wondering when the lovely Mz. MM was gonna write something for reason!

  • Brendan||

    What about Discover or JCB?

  • Kristen’s Vermeer||

    Possibly because those sites don't accept those cards?

  • Harold Falcon||

    No Diner's Club?

  • Kristen’s Vermeer||

    What about a Casio digital watch?

  • Brendan||

    Basically Discover since they bought the network and brand. My Discover has a Diner's Club logo on the back now.

  • Brendan||

    Sounds like an opportunity.

  • SusanM||

    OT: And Now For Something Completely Dam Different:

    http://www.hrtwarming.com/man-.....priceless/

    A man was sent a letter by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality regarding a pond on land that he owned.
  • Tundra, well-chilled.||

    Awesome. I really hope that's real.

  • SusanM||

    Me, too. I realized it may not be on the up-and-up just after posting, but it's a good gag regardless.

  • Kristen’s Vermeer||

    Apparently it's true, but the article you posted is false. It's Michigan, not PA.

  • Kristen’s Vermeer||

    And it took place nigh on 20 years ago.

  • Theoretical Bi Irish||

    Oh God, 1997 was almost 20 years ago?

    That doesn't seem right.

  • SusanM||

    Dam!

  • Kristen’s Vermeer||

    The response that they were aware it was beavers and that the land owner had been repairing the dams after the beavers left was hilarious.

    "I know that. It's so funny that you think I wouldn't know that."

  • Rt. Hon. Judge Woodrow Chipper||

    Looking through the local alt-weekly, seems like a third of the ads are for guy-on-guy sex.

    Sounds to me like Thomas Dart is a homophobe and his crusade is really part of a gay-bashing agenda.

  • Juvenile Bluster||

    Look on the bright side: If the Chicago PD had done this, it would involve sending a SWAT team to beat up the VISA Board of Directors.

    In seriousness, Fuck Thomas Dart. And not in a way he'd like it. I think Ms. McNeill said it best on Twitter:

    Maggie McNeill ‏@Maggie_McNeill 15h15 hours ago
    Maggie McNeill retweeted Tom Dart
    Here @TomDart brandishes his dick & pisses on sex workers without compensating them for satisfying his sex fantasy.
  • croaker||

    Any sentence that begins with "Fuck Thomas Dart" should end with "in the ass with a running chainsaw."

  • lafe.long||

    Once again, the adult industry takes the lead on the adoption of new technologies.. see also: VHS, the internet/www, etc.

    This probly bodes well for bitcoin.

  • macsnafu||

    That's what I was thinking. Another good reason to start using Bitcoin.

  • Theoretical Bi Irish||

    That linked Elizabeth Nolan Brown article actually has surprisingly not horrible people in the comments. Although this guy seems pretty stupid:

    "Switzerland and Germany have legal prostitution, and their economies are outperforming ours."

    Yeah, I think those two things might not have anything to do with each other.

    And then there's this guy:

    "Human trafficking is the by-product of the left's destruction of the traditional family and their policy of enabling rampant, unfettered third world immigration.
    This is yet another sterling example of big government needing to come up with a solution for a problem IT created"

    This guy...this guy knows the score.

  • bassjoe||

    Well, it depends on how big the sex trade is in your economy, now doesn't it?

  • BuSab Agent||

    Real human trafficking that exists doesn't involve juicy masturbation fantasies about sex slaves so is mostly ignored.

  • ||

    This is the thing that gets me about it too. It seems like if you could set up a proper sex trafficking operation, you could set up about a dozen other more profitable businesses in pretty much the same legal niche.

  • Scarecrow & WoodChipper Repair||

    Sayeth the pro:

    And so laws designed to restrict the only profession which is absolutely dominated (both economically and socially) by women

    Now wait a sec. How about housewife? There are no laws restricting that, in fact, it's exalted in movies and TV shows all over this great free country of ours. Does anyone deny that housewife is a female-dominated position? Huh?

  • np||

    "I hope you walk away with one thought today—that if you don't do something about it, we will." -- Herb Kohl

    What can appear as voluntary decisions particularly when it occurs some time afterwards, is really is what I call nudging, or a form of implicit coercion.

    With the behind the scenes pressure from the DOJ like in Operation Choke Point and the SAVE act passing--whos proponents targeted sites like backpage--shit like this is going to be more common with anyone with commercial interests having anything at all to do with sex, even mere speech, to avoid any potentially liability of facilitation by third parties.

  • Alice Bowie||

    You can still pay in Cash. I would think most JOHNs would prefer the privacy and any business-person that I know prefers a cash payment so to lower reported revenues on 1040.

    Not that I support Asshole Dart, just pointing out that these idiots are ineffective in general. Thank God...the sex god.

  • perlchpr||

    It's not the whores that were taking the credit cards, but the electronic "newspaper" they were advertising in.

  • Alice Bowie||

    Well, as a man of vices myself, I can speak for the other John's that I would never ever give BACKPAGE.com my credit card.

  • Alan@.4||

    So the CLEO of CROOK COUNTY, IL, aka Cook County assumes a "high moral tone". Pardon me while I engage in a moment of hysterical laughter.

  • retiredfire||

    "Institutions such as yours have the moral, social and legal right to step up on this pervasive problem and make a fundamental and everlasting difference."
    In other words:" We can't seem to get the goods on these victimless criminals, because no one wants to turn them in. So we are using this underhanded cutting off of funding, by appealing to your moral compass, to stop what, really isn't hurting anyone."

  • gera567||

    Start making cash right now... Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I've started this job and I've never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here...
    www.jobnet10.com

  • GayeD||

    One thing I find fascinating is Dart's conviction that all sex workers are vulnerable teens in the clutches of ravening pimps, particularly as his program co-ordinator and Paid Survivor in Chief, Marian Hatcher started selling sex after jumping bail on drugs charges at the tender age of 38, after supervising 25 staff for a medical company for years.

    But it seems Hatcher is easily lead after all as she is part of an organisation "Space International" that was founded by a fraud and a convicted pimp. Of course, it is extremely unlikely that Dart knew this, but he does now as I sent him a scan of my sworn deposition on the subject.

    He doesn't have to believe me, why should he? He doesn't know me, but he has no option but recognise that either his co-ordinator is involved (however innocently) in fraud, or I am committing perjury, and as a law enforcement officer he is under obligation to investigate that.

    Let's see what he does.

  • ||

    Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do...... ✹✹✹✹✹✹ www.online-jobs9.com

  • Brian Macker||

    Maggie McNeil,

    You have an annoying habit of linking to your own articles for reference or pointing to a hundred page document or book as evidence for a particular claim. This leaves all the work to the reader and often we have no idea what page to look on or even if the information is where you say it is. Please follow scholarly standards by providing the article or book along with a page number and exact quote that supports your claim. For example, "This is documented in row three of table 1a. on page 54 of the study "Fucking with our minds" by Dr. Doolittle."

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