HACKING

Sex Workers Say Hackathon Do-Gooders Aren’t Helping

Sex workers say Boston's #hacktrafficking4good campaign puts them in even more danger
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Sex workers say a campaign meant to do good isn't helping. — REUTERS
Jan 24, 2016 at 11:23 AM ET

Sex workers around the world are expressing outrage about a tech event that aims to combat sex trafficking in Boston.

The weekend event, called #hacktrafficking4socialgood after its namesake hashtag, took place on Saturday and Sunday at Boston’s District Hall as part of a government-sponsored ‘social justice hackathon’ series. Hosted by the mayor of Boston and the Attorney General of Massachusetts, it included participants from MIT who came together to develop data and surveillance tools that could help law enforcement officials monitor sex industry websites as a way to fight sex trafficking. The event says the new tools will “identify” and “disrupt” the online market, as well as help law enforcement “build evidence against those driving demand in the marketplace.

But sex workers and activists believed the participants’ good intentions were misplaced. They bashed the project on Twitter, called it patronizing and said the effort made sex workers more vulnerable to abuse, Vocativ discovered. If officials have stronger tools to monitor workers’ and clients’ online activities, they said, it becomes more difficult for workers to safely screen clients.

Some, including Boston’s Sex Workers Outreach Project, also accused police of being more dangerous to sex workers than clients. Data from the National Blacklist site, where sex workers post warnings about clients to avoid, backs up that claim. It shows that Boston police are one of the local sex workers community’s greatest concerns. Several local listings warn against law enforcement officers asking for unprotected sex and trying to entrap sex workers.

The SWOP’s branch in Los Angeles said:  “Our good clients are in the best position to spot trafficked women. Stop attacking them!”