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Debate: Do online sex ads create a safer environment for sex workers?

A man uses a laptop computer at a wireless cafe.
A man uses a laptop computer at a wireless cafe.

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In a recent Op-Ed in the LA times, journalist and author of “Getting Screwed, Sex Workers and the Law,” Professor Alison Bass argues that recent crackdowns of websites used to advertise and negotiate sex work actually increase the threat of violence against women in the trade.

In Seattle last month, law enforcement agents seized and shut down website, for its suspected use by local sex workers to post advertisements for sexual services.

Last year, law enforcement also shut down sites and for allegedly harboring the activities of traffickers and pimps.

According to Professor Bass, there is little evidence that these websites abet sex trafficking. Online advertising in fact helps sex workers better screen potentially dangerous clients and negotiate safer sex. Without access to these sites, more women are forced to work in the streets, which leaves them more vulnerable to violent customers.

Proponents of police crackdowns argue that the majority of ads are used by women controlled by third parties like pimps and traffickers. The argument that decriminalization reduces sex trafficking is a myth. 

Here’s a YouTube interview of Bass talking about her book “Getting Screwed, Sex Workers and the Law.”


Alison Bass, journalist, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Reed College of Media at West Virginia University, and author of “Getting Screwed, Sex Workers and the Law

Taina Bien Aime, Executive Director of The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)