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Photos: Protesters Rally For Sex Workers Rights After Backpage Shutters Adult Section

By Chicagoist_Guest in News on Jan 18, 2017 9:40PM

Carrying signs proclaiming "rights not raids" and "sex work is not human trafficking," dozens of protesters rallied in the Loop Wednesday afternoon to support the rights of sex workers and condemn the decision to shutter the adult section of the listings site Backpage.

The adult section of the classified ads site has been a popular place for sex workers around the country to advertise, and many are arguing that the federal government's decision to curtail their ability to advertise on the site is making their jobs riskier. The organization Support Ho(s)e Chicago organized the Wednesday protest to raise awareness about the problem and call on Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to take a more positive stance toward sex work.

"As we and our chapters have previously written, this closure has deeply impacted our communities, removing a unique, low-cost and low-barrier way for some of the most marginalized individuals in the adult industry who otherwise might have relied on a third-party or riskier street-based sex work to earn a living," the Sex Worker's Outreach Project said in a statement. "It is hard to put into words the intense anxiety, stress, and sense of oppression our community is currently experiencing. Right now, thousands of individuals are wondering where they are going to go to earn money they need to pay rent, buy their family’s clothes and food, and fill their metro card or gas tank. This was shocking and sudden (although not without warning). We, like many of you all, are at a loss for words."

Backpage "gave us a platform that was very reliable very affordable and enabled us [sex workers] be safer because we could vet and screen through that,” Red, an organizer with the group Support Ho(s)e Chicago, said at the protest. “When we lost that, now there are just expensive websites left, or sites that our clients don’t use or we don’t trust as much."

Beyond that, Red and other organizers said they are hoping to see sex work decriminalized in the future so that sex workers can secure safe working conditions, and see the national conversation around sex work recognize that sex work, performed by consenting adults, is a completely separate subject than human trafficking, in which people are forced to engage in sex acts against their will, often under the immediate threat of violence, deception or financial coercion.

“The reasons the negative aspects of the industry [sex work] and trade can persist is because we are relegated to the shadows and made criminal,” Red said. "If we had decriminalized work we could be public, open and honest about our labor we would have better working rights, we would have respect and dignity. We would be able to fight for safe working conditions for all."