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Letter to's Judith Meskill

September 22, 2010

Below is the full text of a letter to’s Executive Editor, Judith Meskill, from sex workers, sex worker allies, and harm reduction service providers. You can find this letter posted an ever-growing number of places online.

Dear Ms. Meskill,

We were disheartened to hear about your recent campaign which has targeted Craigslist, and about your contribution to removing one of the safest avenues for consensual sex workers to advertise legitimate, and often legal, services. I am writing you today to stand with sex workers, sex worker allies, and harm reduction advocates who all recognize that the closing of Craigslist’s Adult Services section will only cause additional harm, and will not decrease the rate of child sex trafficking. While we applaud much of the work being done by, this campaign based on misinformation and inappropriate responses was a sincere disappointment. For the following reasons, we hope you will consider some of your tactics for the future.

All sex workers are not victims of trafficking. The misconception that all sex workers are exploited is one of the greatest fights facing sex workers and sex worker allies, and it is a misconception which has been perpetuated by your campaign. Trafficking is a crime of force, fraud, or coercion for work which is exploitative. Defining all sex workers as survivors of trafficking assumes both that they are working for an exploitive employer, and that they are not making a mindful decision to engage in this work. This assumption is not only factually erroneous, but also demeaning to many of the individuals who engage in sex work.

Efforts such as these will only do further harm to consensual, adult sex workers. Studies around the world have shown that the more sex workers are criminalized and pushed underground, the higher the prevalence of violence and transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Closing Craigslist and Backpages will not decrease the prevalence of prostitution, but will merely push it further underground. This means less time for negotiation of safe sex and physical limitations. The result is not a smaller industry, but an industry of people facing greater physical risk and displacement.

Closing Craigslist, or any other advertising websites for adult services, will not hinder child sextrafficking. Child sex trafficking is not a crime which is dissuaded by a lack of advertising mechanisms. Craigslist was in full compliance with law enforcement, employing numerous techniques to assist in stopping underage trafficking on their site. Further, Craigslist employed attorneys to read each ad posted on Adult Services, minimizing the likelihood that an advertisement exploiting children would be posted. Now, because there is no set section for these ads and no credit card information being collected, law enforcement will have a harder time tracking down perpetrators who are dispersed throughout Craigslist and other internet sites. This decision by Craigslist will ultimately make it that much more difficult to end underage trafficking on the internet.

The models which have internationally been accepted as best practice models for addressing child trafficking center around working with sex workers, not further criminalizing the work. We hope that you will seek out more representative, balanced information as you pursue your work on human trafficking. We have enclosed below several resources which may be able to better inform your work on the subject, and present a more holistic picture of the sex industry. While we applaud much of your work, this recent development has only promoted misinformation which could lead to serious harm for many sex workers.

Thank you for your time,

The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-USA)

Best Practices Policy Project

Different Avenues
1419 V Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202)829-2103

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