Chat bots about sex adventures
Though it's difficult to ascertain how many of those text messages were received and read (some of the advertised phone numbers were likely landlines), Beiser said they've had "400 positive conversations between advocates and people in prostitution." Of those 400 conversations, he said, 40 sex workers have enrolled in services to help them find stability or get out of the life. In addition to reaching out directly to sex workers, most of whom are women, girls, and LGBTQ youth, SAS, along with volunteers from Microsoft, developed a chat bot that targets men who look for sex online. When interested parties make contact via text with this decoy, what they don't know is that they are not talking to a real sex worker, or even a human volunteer with SAS or REST, but a chat bot.
The bot simulates actual conversations, complete with vernacular and misspellings.
But is shaming sex buyers with decoys and bots effective? Prescott, a clinician and past president of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, thinks it's unlikely. It also gives sex workers a chance to run background checks—either through paid channels or by digging into a client's online persona, the same way you might before meeting a Tinder date.
"Sadly, these kinds of deterrents rarely work in reducing crime," Prescott said. "Every time Rentboy or Backpage or any of those sites are shut down, it's actually putting sex workers more at risk, because we don't have a way of verifying that this person is who they say they are," House said. "But sex workers are the most savvy, entrepreneurial group of people. And that includes retiring." (SWOP's support services for active sex workers also include resources for sex workers who want to quit.) Instead of volunteers and chat bots targeting sex workers and their clients, House and SWOP advocate for decriminalization of the industry altogether.
One of those websites was averaging 34,000 ads a month last year." When they find these ads, former sex workers with Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST)—a Seattle-based Christian group that aims to help people they think are being sexually exploited—reach out via text message, offering support services or just someone to talk to.
Robert Beiser, the executive director of Seattle Against Slavery (SAS), a not-for-profit group that developed the program and partners with REST, told me that in the past year, they've sent more than 7,000 text messages to potential sex workers whose ads they found on the internet. The ads appear to be from a sex worker offering her services.
She points out that human trafficking exists in many industries beside sex. I am a woman with an entrepreneurial spirit who loves to hold people close and help them through difficult times in their life. And that is how I refer to myself, because sex work is sacred." She has, at times, felt vulnerable in her job. But I don't feel any less safe doing sex work than I do walking in the world." (Black and Native American women have the highest rates of homicide death among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The International Labour Organization estimates that, as of 2012, there were 4.5 million people trapped in sex work globally and 14.2 million trapped in other kinds of forced labor, including in agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing. "No, but it's not the majority." "I love my work," she continued. More than half of the black women murdered in the United States each year are killed by a husband, boyfriend, or partner.) Nevertheless, there is a difference between adults engaging in consensual sex work (like House, who has been doing it for six years) and youth who are forced into it.
A 2012 study analyzing a cross section of 116 countries found that those with some form of decriminalized or legalized prostitution have greater inflows of human trafficking than countries where prostitution is prohibited. Still, according to the same study, decriminalization has been shown to improve working conditions.
"A particularly bad example of how legalization can go wrong is Tunisia," according to Amnesty.
"Tunisian sex workers working in licensed brothels who wish to leave their jobs must obtain authorization from the police and demonstrate they can earn a living through 'honest' means.
Amnesty International and other human-rights groups support the policy of decriminalization, because it would increase access to health care and safety, and would allow more sex workers to report crimes against them.
(Neither Amnesty nor SWOP is calling for legalization, which, instead of removing laws that criminalize sex workers, would introduce new laws to regulate the trade.
The bot may be flirty, asking things like "Where u at hun?