Commentary Strange Fruit

Backpage.com, a classified ad service similar to Craigslist, was seized by the U.S. Department of Justice last week, and abruptly wiped off of the internet.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the site, “the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike.”

Backpage was targeted by SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which was recently approved by the U.S. Congress. Craigslist recently removed their personal ads, too, for fear of being targeted by a similar bill.

Supporters say this legislation will protect children and other victims of human trafficking; the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says around 74 percent of the reports they’ve gotten about child sex trafficking were based on postings from Backpage.

Opponents say the act constitutes censorship and could pose a threat to sex workers. Sex workers have said that services like Backpage and Craigslist allowed them to more carefully screen clients, and that the new law will lead to more street-based soliciting, which poses more danger.

Most of these conversations have been framed through a heterocentric lens, focused on cisgender women and girls as potential victims. But lots of queer, and especially transgender people rely on sex work as their primary means of income and survival — and online ads are a big part of finding, screening and maintaining clientele.

This week, trans activist and writer Londyn De Richelieu joins us to explain SESTA, how it works and how it’s affecting consenting sex workers.

Laura produces Recut, Curious Louisville, Strange Fruit, and other audio news stories for WFPL.