FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Katherine Koster, Communications Dirrctor – firstname.lastname@example.org
Cris Sardinia, Desiree Alliance – email@example.com
CHARGES AGAINST BACKPAGE CEO THREATEN SAFETY OF VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES AND INTEGRITY OF FREE SPEECH ONLINE
As organizations led by sex workers and individuals who work closely with sex worker communities, we denounce the charges filed against Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer by California Attorney General Kamala Harris. We view Ferrer’s arrest as part of a broader political agenda that indiscriminately targets online adult industry spaces through any method possible; and in doing so, threatens both the integrity of free speech online as well as the well-being, safety, and security of vulnerable communities: sex workers, LGBTQ individuals, people living with disabilities, and victims of trafficking and domestic abuse.
As with past actions against Craigslist, Rentboy, MyRedbook, and TheReviewBoard, among others, we predict this most recent attack on Backpage.com will negativley impact the safety and autonomy of vulnerable communities and force them into more dangerous working conditions, including street-based sex work. Websites like Backpage enable people to work independently, reduce their dependence on potentially abusive third parties, and allows them to share and access harm reduction information, such as client screening, online. Pushing these workers even further into the shadows cuts them off from social services and makes them more vulnerable to violence and coercion.
Charging Ferrer with pimping and minor pimping for operating a user-generated web forum dangerously and irrationally stretch the boundaries of criminal liability. “This is not only a sex worker issue but also a free speech issue.” Katherine Koster of Sex Workers Outreach Project said. “Ferrer’s arrest should concern hosts of user-generated web-based forums across industries.”
We are concerned by how anti-trafficking discourse is being used to justify actions that harm marginalized communities, curtail free speech, and unproductively direct government resources to increased policing and surveillance. “Contracting civil liberties, expanding the policing of marginalized communities, and reducing access to advertising and screening platforms such as Backpage is not an effective approach to addressing human trafficking.” Savannah Sly, President of SWOP-USA said “Effective anti-trafficking work focuses on root causes of vulnerability such as youth homelessness, poverty, and discrimination, and works to expand access to social services, healthcare, and employment opportunities. An effective anti-trafficking initiative would employ tools such as Backpage and work to empower workers in industries where trafficking and labor exploitation may occur. ”
We urge Kamala Harris and the United States Government to drop charges against Ferrer and adopt a rights-based anti-trafficking strategy, as supported by human rights organizations including the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the global sex worker rights movement.