Three weeks ago, Craigslist announced that, under heavy legal pressure to curb prostitution ads, it would close its Erotic Services advertising section and open a new Adult Services section with a $10 posting fee and close supervision of the language and images in the ads. It's just another move in the lawsuit-waving war between Craigslist and various states' attorneys, and I was neither surprised nor particularly outraged about it. Yes, in a perfect world, sex workers could post ads wherever they wanted. But private organizations get to choose their policies, and if you don't like them, you take your business elsewhere.
However, some women are taking more umbrage, as reflected in a press release from a group of New York sex-work activists. It reads, in part: "Thousands of erotic service providers will become more vulnerable to dangerous predators... Preventing the use of Craigslist advertisements eliminates the advantage of screening clients online, which makes for a safer work experience by filtering out potentially dangerous individuals."
Reading this—and other statements like it—one would think Craigslist was a sex worker's paradise, the one place online to find clients guaranteed to be safe. In my opinion, quite the opposite is true. Utter anonymity and the expectation of a very brief interval between contact and meeting were the site's chief attractions; prospective clients like those things, but that setup is filled with land mines for a woman trying work safely. I'm not saying you couldn't find any good people on Craigslist. But using Craigslist didn't keep anyone safe—not from violence, and not from arrest, either. Adult consensual sex work should be decriminalized, and sex workers are as entitled to safety as anyone else, but it is not Craigslist's job to provide us with that safety. No website has that responsibility or that power. Only you can make choices to keep yourself safe. We do a disservice to sex workers if we imply otherwise.
To the people who wrote this press release—Sex Workers Action New York, $pread magazine, Sex Work Awareness, Prostitutes of New York, and Sex Workers Outreach Project—I say this: Politicians have made Craigslist a tempting distraction for sex-work activists. People like South Carolina attorney general Henry McMaster would love to keep our dialogue skewed toward Craigslist being the villain. That way, they garner praise from people who are anti–sex work and none of the blame from us. But this particular battle is unwinnable right now. We should stay focused on meaningful activism that can change public opinion about sex work and, ultimately, the law.
If you mourn the loss of the old Erotic Services section, listen to an experienced sex worker: You don't need Craigslist. There are other, better ways to find clients online. Proceed very carefully. Use your head, but listen to your gut, too. And never rely on a website to keep you safe.