Australian sex workers struggling to survive after US bans online advertising

Re/Post Updated yesterday at 8:49pm

The SignalBy Stephen Smiley and Ange Lavoipierre

Australian sex workers are the collateral damage in a new US law targeting child sex trafficking.

The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) passed Congress and was signed into law by US President Donald Trump back in April. It was intended to target websites hosting ads for illegal sex services, such as Craigslist, Backpage and Cracker.

But the same websites are used by legitimate, adult, consenting sex workers all over the world, including in Australia.

Sex workers here were bracing for the impact of an effective ban on advertising, and for many the financial losses have surpassed their worst expectations.

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Lucy*, a dominatrix working in Melbourne, has told The Signal she has lost more than 90 per cent of her income since the laws came in.

“Backpage went down pretty much the next day. For myself as a mistress that meant there was nowhere else for me to advertise”, she says.

Lucy says it’s been a disastrous financial hit for her, and others.

“Sex workers aren’t surviving particularly well,” she says.

“For me, it’s meant not paying rent, and I’m living on a diet of two minute noodles, or I have some regulars who will take me to dinner.

“And generally I would have charged that as a dinner booking but now I’m going to dinner for free because I can’t afford to buy myself food anymore.

“I’m now having to do six days a week in a brothel, trying to get walk-in clients.”

Changing the shape of the industry

The laws are forcing sex workers out of private business and into brothels to find work, according to Jane Green, from the Victorian peer support network, Vixen Collective.

“There’s a surplus of workers in that environment, it’s lowering everyone’s incomes,” she says.

Ms Green says as a result, brothel owners, “are not motivated to treat that workforce as well as they should”.

Online platforms also used to offer sex workers a valuable opportunity to vet clients who might be dangerous or dishonest.

“I think that’s going to have an ongoing impact. We’ve seen organisations like Facebook and Twitter come out with renewed terms of services,” she says.

“And I think there’s a fear from workers that places where we exchange safety information are going to be more difficult to access or disappear over the coming months.”

For sex workers, by sex workers

In the months since FOSTA was passed into law, fledgling platforms have emerged to take their place, hosted outside the US.

Some have been run by clients, hoping to cash in on the crisis, but the more popular alternatives have been set up by sex workers themselves.

Photo Cameron Cox, CEO of Sex Workers Outreach Project NSW.

ABC News: Cameron Cox

“One website in particular, called Crockor, is filling the breach,” says Cameron Cox from the Sydney-based Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).

After a crisis meeting to respond to the changes, another sex worker approached him and said: “We’re going to open a mirror site of Cracker here in Australia.

“Three to four days later they had this site … and it’s better than the original site,” Mr Cox says.

Lucy believes a sex-worker-run platform like Crockor is going to be the best solution for the Australian industry.

But she warns it will take time for clients to find the new directory, and for the search engine optimisation to catch up.

“And it’s a matter of how many sex workers are going to be able to survive that period of time,” she says.

*Names have been changed

Australian sex workers struggling to survive after US bans online advertising – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)