Sex is no stranger to the Internet, and yet sex workers — including porn actors, escorts and webcam models — continue to face unique hostility in the digital age.
In addition to stigma, negativity and “rescue” efforts, many sex workers face discrimination from online services that most of us use without thinking twice. For example, Amazon has allegedly deleted sex workers’ Wish Lists, while Chase Bank recently began canceling non-criminal sex workers’ accounts.
“Our speech is often what they come for first,” said journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant at the Theorizing the Web conference on Friday night. “So, if you want a preview of what will happen to everyone else on the Internet, this is a really remarkable opportunity.”
Grant moderated a panel called “Sex Work and the Web” at the Brooklyn-based event. The hour-long conversation, which included former and current sex workers, revolved around advocacy and attitudes toward sex work, the need to differentiate it from trafficking, and both the benefits and struggles of using the Internet in their professions.
“As far as I’m concerned, sex workers are consummate early adopters to technology, and we often don’t get credit for that,” Grant said.
— Caroline O’Donovan (@ceodonovan) April 25, 2014
Emma Caterine, a community organizer with advocacy group Red Umbrella Project, said that Tumblr has been a big platform for the organization’s media campaigns. However, ever since the blogging platform began blocking certain NSFW content following the Yahoo buyout, she said it has been difficult to share even educational content with the sex-worker community.
Ultimately, the panel’s bottom line seemed to be that sex workers use technology because everyone uses technology.
“We’re people; of course we use technology,” said N’jaila Rhee, journalist and adult web model, on the panel. “I use Uber. Not for sex work — I used it to get here.”
However, there is the obvious dark side of the sex industry, including trafficking and exploitation. Both Rhee and fellow panelist Hawk Kinkaid, founder and president of Hook Online, stressed the importance of not conflating sex trafficking with the voluntary decision to enter sex work as a mature adult.
In a panel that took place earlier in the day, titled “Casual Encounters: Sex, Sexuality and Intimacy,” artist, activist and sex worker Maggie Mayhem also acknowledged these issues.
“There are, absolutely, a lot of issues with trafficking happening worldwide, and I want to make it clear that I take that very, very seriously,” she said to the audience. “Sex workers do take trafficking seriously. We also want to be involved in the efforts that are governing our lives and the people hurt in the occupation that we have.”
Watch the full “Sex Work on the Web” plenary in the video, above, and be sure to check out the social conversation surrounding Theorizing the Web with the hashtag #TtW14.
Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/26/sex-work-web/