When I broke up with my boyfriend towards the end of last year, the first place I realised I needed to go was back to work. After only a few weeks of being single, I returned to brothel work and nestled myself in the safe embrace of the sisterhood that exists within dressing rooms across the world: Sex work has allowed me to take trips overseas, to pay for expensive university courses, and to furnish my life with luxurious things I otherwise would never have been able to afford.
Sex work has also paid my overdue bills, put food on my plate, and put money in my pocket when I barely had enough in my bank account to top up my Opal card. At times when I needed money most — when days at the brothel were slow, or when I had taken a break from working but needed money urgently — an ad placed on an online personals website, like Backpage, did the trick.
A few hours after placing the ad, I would be leaving a house or a hotel room with slightly smudged lipstick and a week's rent in my pocket; as simple as that. This is sometimes referred to as "survival sex work": It's far more common than we imagine, but much like the thought of performing any other physical job out of an urgent need for money, it carries a heavy stigma.
Not many people like to admit that they need money, and adding sex work to the mix makes it an admission that can often be dangerous. I write this from a position of enormous privilege and fortune: My pantry is stocked, my bills are paid, and my Opal card is freshly topped up. But if an emergency should strike, the option of placing that quick ad on Backpage or a similar website is no longer available to me, or to any other worker.
As of this weekend, Backpage has been taken offline after the website was seized by the United States Department of Justice. Seven individuals involved with the website have been charged in a count federal indictment.
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