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Monday, January 16, 2017


Dear Backpage:

My name is Jody Williams.  In 1987 I created the first hotline in this country, as well as Canada and the world for that matter, for anyone who wanted to leave the sex industry for ANY reason, sex trafficking included (please note the slang term of "sex trafficking" was not coined until the passing of the Trafficking Act of 2000 giving this issue federal recognition), who were adults to call us for help in doing so. 

The hotline was connected to the first 12 step program addressing sex work also created for adults to find help in leaving the sex industry.  This 12 step program, originally named Prostitutes Anonymous, was used to create the first alternative sentencing, diversion and outreach program for adults to be provided with alternative sentencing when convicted of prostitution criminal charges. 

This work led to the county of Los Angeles creating a board at the request of then mayor Tom Hayden, Sheriff Block and Chief Gates, which called out to recognize for the first time not all involved in the sex industry were there by choice, therefore not all were "criminals".  This hotline, and program, was the first time it was considered some in the industry might not be there by choice, therefore were "victims" of sex trafficking. 

I specify we targeted adults because Lois Lee had already created the hotline and program of Children of the Night for juveniles in 1979.  For this reason, anyone who called our hotline who was a juvenile was referred to her program for assistance.  We had no one else to refer them to other than Children of the Night for many years as no other program would work specifically for juveniles who had been in the sex industry for whatever reason. 

As you know, you have shut down the postings in your erotic sections of your website, Backpage.  We appreciate and honor you've placed up on the announcement page about this shut down the hotline for juveniles who can contact Children of the Night for help.  Also that you have listed the National Trafficking Hotline on your site.

What you do not have however listed on your site anywhere is a hotline listing for adults who want help to leave the sex industry who may not consider themselves a "victim".  Despite the omission, our hotline has been literally ringing off the hook since you shut down these pages.  I can document I am an unpaid volunteer who has now been clocking in sometimes over 18 hours straight answering the calls which have been flooding into our hotline from people who are now in a crisis situation seeking help requesting said help from us.  These people do not consider themselves a "trafficking victim" and therefore do not see any reason to contact the National Trafficking Hotline.

These are people who now consider themselves "without a job" without any warning.  They are contacting us wanting all types of emergency assistance ranging from help to pay their rent, legal assistance to avoid eviction, help finding alternate employment, mental health counseling, drug treatment, and of course wanting to know more about our program, Sex Workers Anonymous.  We renamed our program to Sex Workers Anonymous after the internet was created in 1995. 

The reason we changed it after the internet was born was because of the invention of the webcam.  This was bringing members to our doors who were not having physical intercourse for money.  Therefore, they did not identify with the label "prostitute".  For their sake, we expanded the name of our program to "Sex Workers Anonymous" to accommodate those who were not having physical intercourse for money, but who were employed in the sex industry nonetheless.

While you think we'd be grateful for the people who are now going online in droves seeking help who are adults and thus finding out about our hotline, and program, we were unprepared for this avalanche of calls.  We have no paid staff as we do not seek out grants, nor hold fund raisers.  Since those coming to us are leaving sex work, and most of the time also getting clean, it's often years before our members are financially stable enough to even donate to our program.  Because of the large number of completely broke members, we've had to even put our Recovery Guide into an ebook so we can give it to members free. 

There is an outrage in those calling us that you do not have anything listed for adults who do not consider themselves a "victim".  These are people whose livelihood has depended for years upon Backpage, who now are completely "out of work".  They have no idea what to do other than become street prostitutes.  If they were able to get employed by the legal brothels - they would.  Since they can't - this now is driving those who are not calling us for help into the streets in droves to work as illegal prostitutes.

They feel you're making a statement.  They feel you're saying by these actions that all adults employed in the sex industry are "sex trafficking victims" by the omission of our hotline number up on the same page you have listed the hotline for juveniles, along with the National Trafficking Hotline. 

I'm writing you to ask you if you are aware of any of this first of all.  I'm also writing to ask you what you plan on doing about the fact I've not had one full night's sleep since you took down these ads because of the large volume of calls coming into our volunteer hotline.  They are not showing any signs of letting up either.  We have no funds to hire anyone to answer these calls, nor can we charge the people calling us for help who are doing so because they are now "out of work".

I'm also writing you to see if you're aware how this has been supporting sex trafficking itself?  I say that because the consensus of calls I've been receiving on this hotline is that those who are now without being able to advertise on Backpage, are not willing to take the risk of becoming street prostitutes, and can't for whatever reason go to work where it's legal.  Therefore, many of them are now contacting sex trafficking operations seeking work they can provide them without relying upon your site.   This however is actually causing sex traffickers to profit from your actions.

I have attempted to place ads where these people can see it for our hotline number so that our hotline is at least present on your site myself.   I've now verified you must have some kind of software identifying my IP address or something, because every time I try and place an ad for us on either Backpage OR Craigslist, those ads are refused.   I have recorded proof ads from us are being deliberately blocked. 

However, when we have other members place the ads for us who have a different IP address than ours here at the World Service Office of SWA, they have no problem placing these ads.  The problem with this however is asking our other members to place ads for us violates their anonymity.  We are aware if you can block our IP address, then you are recording IP addresses of those placing ads.  Therefore, we can't ask our members to place these ads for us as that would then identify them as members, and thus violate their anonymity to outsiders.  Since we know you've had to turn over records to law enforcement in the past, we can't take this risk.

So we have some problems here we'd like to discuss with someone there about this matter.  You  may reach me at (702) 488-1127.  Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Jody Williams


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