Last week, an online community for sex workers disappeared from the Internet. Visit SFRedbook.com, MyPinkBook.com, or MyRedBook.com right now, and you’ll only find the seals of the law enforcement agencies—the FBI, the DOJ, and the IRS—that seized the sites as part of a prostitution and money laundering investigation.
The seizure is part of a disturbing trend of targeting sex workers, but more than that, it is an attack on the rights to free speech and free association exercised by a diverse group of people, many of whom have nothing to do with the alleged crimes.
MyRedBook and its companion sites served a large and diverse community of sex workers. The sites functioned as social media platforms, with discussion boards for users in topics from politics to financial tips. It also served as a resource guide with information ranging from explanations of the law as it pertains to sex work to health information. For archived versions of the forums sex workers no longer have access to, click here.
These sites were essential tools for First Amendment protected speech and association—especially important for a community that values its privacy for a variety of legitimate reasons. This platform has been pulled out from under the feet of this community. As the Bay Area Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) said in a statement:
Today we also lost extensive online forums for a community of sex workers to keep each other safe, screen clients, and blacklist predators. Myredbook also hosted resource guides for sex workers who were struggling and created a venue for community counseling for those in need. Many local outreach organizations used this forum to connect with vulnerable sex workers.