Backpage is being left by MasterCard and Visa to reportedly avert prostitution. The two credit card titans confirmed that they have stopped processing Backpage payments to comply with the request of Tom Dart of Cook County, Illinois, in line with the sheriff’s intention to avert prostitution. The officer told them in a letter to stop processing payments for the adult services on Backpage, and MasterCard, as well as Visa, went beyond the request by shutting down all transactions with the Dutch-owned site.
Backpage.com is an online platform for advertising services and goods. It allows posting of events, buying and selling of old appliances, as well as provides listings for a place to rent, job, goods, and services. It accepts MasterCard and Visa payments from advertisers. It allegedly hosts an “adult” section as well, where escort services are advertised and people try to connect with those who have the same sexual interests. Everyone entering the section should confirm that they are at least 18 years old. The site also accommodates users who can get resources for reporting cases of sexual exploitation in a click.
Dart, who was a state prosecutor, cannot use the law to take down the site, but turned to the big financial services firms to stop their transactions with the producers of controversial online content. It is the people who may abuse Backpage.com for evil purposes, such as human trafficking, that concerns Dart most. The site is not designed for that purpose though. Dart, along with other law enforcement agents and politicians, are applying pressure to the site in order to get rid of its adult section.
It is a violation of human rights if someone is sexually forced or exploited against his or her will. Human trafficking is a heinous and dreadful crime that deserves severe punishment and the attention of the government and the public. However, Backpage is not into human trafficking.
The Communications Decency Act 230 ensures websites that host content, such as Facebook and WordPress, freedom of speech online. This is to ensure that Web hosts focus on providing a great experience, instead of monitoring what their users post, either popular or controversial. CDA 230 likewise protects Backpage as not liable for the advertisements of its users.
When Dart sued Craigslist for allegedly allowing prostitution ads on its site six years earlier, CDA 230 also protected the website. Craigslist eventually stopped ads for “adult” services and many transferred to Backpage. Dart’s request to MasterCard and Visa is an indirect way of attacking the website.
Prostitution is considered a crime in many countries, including the U.S., and those who are into sexual services are subject to arrest. However, more law enforcement personnel insist that sex workers are victims and the real criminals are the traffickers and pimps.
A post on New Republic has stories of sex workers who admitted that they would never have done sex work if not for the convenience and ease of the Internet, which makes sex work easier, safer, and more anonymous. For those driven by economic needs, if they cannot advertise on Backpage by paying via MasterCard and Visa, they have to work on the street, or find a manager or pimp who has alternate payment methods.
New Republic said that with Backpage being left by MasterCard and Visa, which have many connections to major online payments, to reportedly avert prostitution, may discourage sex services, but it does not totally stop the trade, but making the jobs of sex workers more dangerous. Since sex workers can no longer use MasterCard and Visa to pay for the ads on Backpage, they resort to more complicated means, if they cannot give up forever.
Dart is aware that some sex workers may sort onto the street, but he emphasized that the new move could discourage them from doing their trade, and be protected from danger. Now that Backpage is left by MasterCard and Visa to reportedly avert prostitution, he added that from the standpoint of law enforcement, it is easier to catch the pimps and the traffickers if they are exposed on the streets.
By Judith Aparri
Edited By Leigh Haugh
EFF: Caving to Government Pressure, Visa, and MasterCard Shut Down Payments to Backpage.com
MediaPost: Visa and MasterCard Stop Processing Backpage.com Payments
New Republic: The Wrong Way to Stop Prostitution
Photo Courtesy of Nils Hamerlinck‘s Flick Page – Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of Joseph Morris’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License