CityxGuide has been one of the most prominent online global advertising spaces that sex workers have utilised, until now. On June 19th 2020, providers and clients were greeted with a message notifying them that CityxGuide.com, and it's affiliated websites, had been seized by the Department of Homeland Security. According to the takedown notice, the charges include conspiracy, promotion and facilitation of prostitution, racketeering, and more than a dozen money laundering charges. The sites' owner, Wilhan Martono, was arrested Wednesday in Fremont.
Why is this bad?
After the devastating shutdown of Backpage.com in 2018, many sex workers were left scrambling to find a replacement. Newer sites did not have an established client base, and established sites often charged through the nose for advertising, keeping these options off limits to the most marginalised sex workers. CityxGuide was a familiar free/affordable alternative that became a saving grace for many Backpage refugees.
A glaringly obvious concern which comes with working in a criminalised industry is privacy. Just as we saw during the 2016 raid of Eros.com by DHS, the take down has caused a huge amount of anxiety around the personally identifiable information DHS and other government bodies may now have. Verification images such as passports and other identifying material which are commonly submitted to websites such as CityxGuide, are major liabilities for sex workers as it is not uncommon to experience violence and stigma simply for existing.
The general public needs to understand that the attempted erasure of sex workers online has a ripple affect, which, in due time, will reach and impact the mainstream. Sex workers have been the testing ground for harmful legislation for decades. The ignored outcry from our community during the passing of FOSTA/SESTA in the United States needs to be acknowledged as we are now in an age where the fight for basic survival has widened to the masses. Mass surveillance, police brutality, doxxing and the degradation of our free speech online, are being used against all of us by predatory governments and corporations. We do not believe that the Department of Homeland Security will stop at CityxGuide.
As stated in the official DHS notice, sites affiliated with CityxGuide have also been seized. These are some of the sites which have been identified in that bundle. We will continue to add to this list as more information becomes publicly available.
Which sites have been hit:
How can you help as a non Sex Worker?
With peer-led Sex Worker Emergency funds popping up across the globe, it's more evident than ever that sex workers have been one of the hardest-hit communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. We need clients and people outside of the sex industry to break their silence and help us in this fight.
What you can do to help workers:
- Book workers on sites that are sex worker owned, led and supported
- Donate to your local sex worker Covid-19 relief fund
- Sign up to Twitter and follow your favourite providers
- Bookmark their personal websites to avoid losing contact during other take downs
- Help in the fight to keep online freedom of speech alive by opposing bills such as the EARN IT Act bill and other bills which target protective legislation such as CDA Section 230.
- Listen to sex worker rights activists when they are advocating against harmful legislation. Here are some great places to start: @hackingandhustling, @theleilaraven, @sxnoir, @whoreganizer, @redcanarysong
- Start having conversations with others about sex workers rights and the decriminalisation of sex work, and include these topics when you are rallying for other social causes. Sex work sits at an intersection of many of these movements, with many people from the transgender and black communities partaking in sex work to survive. Rights for sex workers, means rights for the most marginalised people in society.