The Exposure of Poses a Conundrum for Sex Workers

The escort site shuttered its adult section last month following the release of an exposé.

Photo Credit: 50 eggs

Before embarking on her epic feature, I Am Jane Doe, director Mary Mazzio was unaware child sex trafficking even existed in America.

"What originally started out as an analysis of a legal problem turned into a story of these Jane Does in their fight against Backpage," she said in a "Matter of Fact" interview. 

"Backpage [had] become the number-one market for commercial sex of any kind, including the sale of childen," Mazzio explained. "When I discovered there were Jane Doe children filing suit against Backpage, I thought to myself, number one, child sex trafficking... happens here in the United States?"

Mazzio "had not a clue," then wondered, "'How can it possibly be legal?" 

Watch: "I Am Jane Doe": Trailer

Having met a number of Backpage children on her cross-country journey, Mazzio discovered a common thread among them. 

"These are children that have witnessed and experienced horrific violence, and yet they're taking their trauma and their grief and they're channeling it into positive momentum," she said of those suing Backpage and featured in the film.

"These are kids that come from intact families," she added. "These are children that have caring parents. They are, in effect, the lucky ones. This crime happens disproportionately to children who don't have intact families, homeless, runaways, LGBTQ youth, adopted children." 

Mazzio's film examines the children's path from the website's pages back to their families and onward. 

Watch: Interview with "I Am Jane Doe" director Mary Mazzio

"I said to the kids, 'It's extraordinary that you are part of this lawsuit. Why would you risk unmasking your identity?' And the kids... said almost uniformly, Well, I don't want this to happen to my sister." 

One asked Mazzio if she had a daughter. 

"I said yes," she recalled. "She said, I'm doing this film for your daughter." 

Backpage announced it was shuttering its escort section on January 9, the night before the congressional hearing. 

"Saying we've been censured, we are being bullied by the government," Mazzio mocked. 

The decision followed a damning Senate report and two years of controversy. Since then, sex workers using the site have faced an unprecedented conundrum. 

The closure of Backpage removed “a unique, low-cost and low-barrier way for some of the most marginalized individuals in the adult industry who otherwise might have relied on a third-party or riskier street-based sex work to earn a living," the social justice group Sex Workers Outreach Project stated.

In the wake of its closure, the Sex Workers’ Mutual Care Collective is working to aid those impacted financially by the decision. 

I Am Jane Doe screens nationwide through April 3. Those looking to host a screening can email the production company: [email protected].

Fifty percent of all profits are being donated to organizations serving Jane Doe children.

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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