opinion

COLUMN: Credit card bans do not cure prostitution's ills

Illinois Sheriff Dart's plan to combat prostitution may hurt those already at a social disadvantage.



Prostitution is a crime in most parts of the nation. Those who sell sexual services are treated as criminals and subject to arrest. In an attempt to reduce such crimes, Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Illinois, has convinced Visa and Mastercard to end transactions with Backpage.com, a website used primarily for facilitating prostitution and human trafficking. Despite the good intention, the ban might do more harm than good.

Sheriff Dart, being a former prosecutor and legislator, believes platforms advertising adult services provide a ?haven for traffickers and pimps. “It’s recklessly irresponsible, and people are getting hurt,” ?Dart said.

Thus, under his insistence, people now cannot use credit cards to pay for ads on Backpage.com. This means sex workers would probably either have to stop using the site or resort to less widely available methods such as Bitcoin.

While Sheriff Dart himself is pleased with the outcome, many sex workers are not. They say Dart’s campaign will make their jobs more dangerous. For some, the change means being forced to work on the street or find a manager or pimp. “It’s way more dangerous and more difficult,” said Eve, a fine arts student in Chicago who does escorting and fetish work. It means workers will not be able to profile clients. Furthermore, the change also puts up an even greater disadvantage for sex workers who work out of financial necessity because working on the street generally pays less than on Backpage.

Dart acknowledges this change may force workers onto the street, but he intends for it to also discourage ?people from being sex workers — a dangerous profession to begin with.

“From a law enforcement standpoint, when you try to get at the bad guys, the pimps and traffickers having to expose themselves on the street, it’s a lot easier to catch them,” Dart explains.

Indeed, Dart is right from a law enforcement standpoint. Yet, not everyone lives within that law enforcement opinion. Most people are forced into the sex industry by economic necessity or external coercion.

While Dart’s campaign may be effective at tackling criminals, pimps and traffickers, it also risks the safety of those who are already vulnerable and financially ?desperate.

Perhaps here, instead of banning credit cards, it would be wiser to deal with the dangers of human trafficking and prostitution by tackling them directly. Despite what the law claims, it’s becoming increasingly debatable within legal dialogue whether sex workers should be treated as ?criminals.

Many argue they are victims, and the only way to stop them from being exposed to the dangers of prostitution is to get rid of prostitution completely. But until then, sex workers at least deserve to live a healthy, disease-free life safe from violence. And from the fears and worries of current sex workers, it seems Dart’s ban on credit cards is only making that more difficult.

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