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Thoughts From a Former Craigslist Sex Worker

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People — not just sex-workers — have sex for many reasons. Sometimes, for some of us, one reason is money.

From October 2006 to January 2007 I accepted money in exchange for sexual services I provided to men I met online in what was then called the “erotic services” section of Craigslist.org. No more a “professional” than a person renting a room on the same site is necessarily a professional real estate broker, for me and other women and men like myself, Craigslist at that time provided a simple, familiar forum through which I could do my business with complete anonymity, from the safety and convenience of my own home. At Craigslist.org, I was able to bill myself as exactly what I was at the time: a graduate student, bored and curious, sexually uninhibited, looking to make a little money while having a little fun. I wrote my own ads, screened my own prospective dates, decided on my own what I would and would not do for money, and — best of all — I kept every penny I earned, all without the interference of an agency or other ubiquitous “middle man.”

Ultimately, while my experience as a “non-pro” was not the “fun” I had come looking for — I found the lifestyle physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting, and so I made a decision to desist some months after I’d gotten started, exiting the industry just as freely as I’d entered — never have I felt it was the state’s obligation — nor its right, in fact — to protect me from the decisions I made.

On Thursday, September 4th, cowing to ongoing criticism from attorney generals and advocacy groups, Craigslist shut down what had come to be called its “adult services” section, replacing the link with a black and white bar that reads “censored.” This, after years of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark fighting such pressure, is a disappointing display of him abandoning the very principles of freedom on which his site was founded and feels more a violation than ever I experienced on even my worst “dates.” Opponents to the “adult services” section claimed that its existence facilitated with greater ease the trafficking and exploitation of women and children, and while I do not doubt such exploitation exists, it is my supposition that most women who are found out by the authorities to sell sex would rather be labeled a “victim” (and so entitled to protection) than to be considered a criminal (to be prosecuted and exposed).

For all the “victims” of the “adult services” section of Craigslist.org, I would venture there are a considerable number of individuals like myself — free thinking, entrepreneurial human beings with choices and responsibilities — whose real-life experiences, not to mention sources of income — are being stifled by our so-called advocates.

It has been some years since the last time I met a stranger through Craigslist for reasons other than to buy or sell a piece of furniture. I hope to never again make the choice to trade sex for cash even as I risk my current job and social standing to speak out for an individual’s right to do so. The simple fact is that people do have sex for money — many different kinds of people for many different reasons, people as varied as those looking to buy concert tickets, sell a collectible or adopt a pet — and these people will continue to. Whether the choice to do so is being dignified and protected with its own forum or whether what was once that safe space remains appropriately labeled “censored,” that choice, without a court order one way or another, remains up to Newmark.

Melissa Petro

Former sex worker, researcher, writer, educator, and feminist

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