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This week, after an informal request from a law enforcement officer, Visa and Master Card announced that they would no longer let their cards be used to process payments to Backpage.com, the most widely used site for adult advertising in the United States.
He wrote letters to the top executives of Visa and Master Card, asking them to suspend payment processing to Backpage for “moral, social and legal reasons…to help protect vulnerable and victimized women and children.” This tactic worked, faster than even Dart could have dared to dream.
But efforts to combat sex work under the guise of trafficking are often counterproductive to their stated purpose.
What is new, and alarming, is the precedent this sets.
And what the site itself was doing was legally protected, as courts had found time and time again. Anti-sex work advocates were thrilled with the response, hailing the circumvention of due process as a “progressive” way of going after the site since everything else they had tried had failed to stand up to scrutiny.
Dart himself declared it “a great day for all who are engaged in the anti-sex trafficking struggle,” since the companies pulling out would “make the average trafficker or pimp’s life much more difficult.” If anything, the new restrictions will make it easier for the few traffickers or pimps on Backpage to hide, by making it so that people can only pay for advertising via anonymous means instead of traceable ones with their names and information attached.
Preventing these workers from being able to advertise makes it more likely for them to be driven onto the streets, into the hands of pimps or managers, or simply into more desperate poverty.