The online classified web site Backpage.com, long used by sex workers as a low-cost means of advertising their services and screening clients, has announced that it is allowing users to post ads for free to the adult services section of its site.
Regional updates: North America and the Caribbean
The North America and the Caribbean Region is made up of several country and regional networks, including a variety of organisations in Canada, the United States, and throughout the Caribbean.
Serpent Libertine (SWOP-Chicago), USA.
Quincy McEwan, (Guyana Sex Work Coalition), Caribbean
In the aftermath of Canada’s new “end demand” style policy on sex work, migrant sex workers (including those with legal status) are being swept up in crackdowns and police sweeps, which they say are endangering them.
On Tuesday the 30th of June, MasterCard announced that its credit cards can no longer be used to pay for ads on the Backpage.com website, following a request from Chicago’s Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, who claimed the site is used by sex traffickers. The following day Visa announced that it, too, would no longer allow its credit cards to be used to make transactions through the website.
Thirty-five mayors from across the United States, including Bill de Blasio in New York City, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, have lent their support to a growing campaign for an “end demand” style of law enforcement to be used against the clients of sex workers.
Sex workers in Canada held a national day of action across the country on Saturday, the 13th of June. The third annual Red Umbrella March was especially significant this year, following the introduction of new sex work legislation late last year.
At the end of last month, SWOP Houston formed, describing themselves as “a non-profit resource for community-building, organizing, and sharing support … run by and for sex workers”. To celebrate their launch, SWOP Houston held a kick-off brunch on the 2nd of June, which all current and former sex workers in the area were invited to attend.
When Canada’s Justice Minister Peter MacKay presented the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (the Conservative Government’s new plan for legislating on sex work, implemented late last year), he presented, as a major selling point, the promise of providing funds to people in the sex trades who wish to exit the industry.
Last year, on 25th June, the San Francisco-based advertising/community website MyRedbook, which featured free listings and discussions forums for sex workers; a review section, and a bad date list, was shut down and seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Two employees were arrested and last week one was sentenced to 13 months in jail. Eric Omuro had entered a guilty plea, admitting that from 2010 to 2014 he owned and ran MyRedbook.com with the intent to facilitate prostitution.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) a piece of bipartisan anti-trafficking legislation that has been criticised for its prioritisation of law enforcement, passed the US House of Representatives by 420 votes to three on 19th of May. The legislation will now head to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.
In Ottawa, Canada late last month police raided 20 massage and body rub parlours in a three-day long bust that they claimed was part of a human trafficking investigation. While no criminal charges were made, last week Ottawa police announced that 11 women will be deported as a result of the raids.
Sex worker groups have spoken up against the decision to issue removal orders for the 11 women, saying that undocumented workers in Canada are more vulnerable to violence and are far less likely to come forward as witnesses to report crime if they fear deportation.