Anti-sex work organization removes content from massage parlors after attacks

Image for article titled Anti-Sex Work Group Takes Down Pages Stirring Panic About Massage Parlors

Photo: Megan Varner (Getty Images)

Polaris, a national anti-trafficking group known for its strong opposition to sex workreportedly removed several pages from its website related to massage parlors following last week Atlanta shootings.

As a motherboard reportedthe changes to the site were first noticed by Justin Case and cam model Mary Moody, who shared a screenshot of a deleted page archive by the Wayback Machine titled “Human Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses”. At the bottom of the page, there are links to other massage parlor-related content on the site, including pages titled “Massage Parlor Traffic is Big Business”, “Improving Law Enforcement Response order to massage parlor traffic” and “Your role in ending massage parlor traffic.

That last headline has particular resonance with the Atlanta shooter’s statement that he killed his eight victims because they represented a “temptation he wanted to eliminate.” In an email to Motherboard, a Polaris spokesperson said the pages were removed “with great caution in case a white supremacist extremist finds a way to turn it into an excuse for violence.” The spokesperson argued that the group is taking a “more holistic approach” to its anti-trafficking mission and not placing a “special focus on the particular massage parlor” (although it may find itself in the part of the strategy in localities where it is particularly prevalent).

Nonetheless, much of the organization’s massage parlor-related content still remains online on the site: a search for “massage parlors” on the Polaris site yields a 2018 blog titled “Human Trap in massage parlours: a deeply manipulated sense of ‘Choice,'” another titled “Does your local information protect victims of massage parlor trafficking?” and many other scare press releases and “resources” about companies. Some of these messages encourage readers to contact their representatives to demand greater monitoring of massage parlors and to write to local newspapers urging editors and reporters to investigate trafficking in their communities.

This content is just a fraction of the work Polaris has done to spread misinformation about massage parlors and encourage law enforcement to crack down on the businesses, despite a long story of these repressions mainly resulting in harm to sex workers. But Polaris makes little distinction between trafficked persons and sex workers: The group has been a vocal opponent to the efforts of decriminalize sex workeven though sex worker rights advocates say it would make sex workers safer and protect victims of trafficking.

Ddespite the group’s clear leaning against sex work, its claims were widely publicized last week by mainstream outlets like the New York Times and USA today. A Time article about the Atlanta shooting doubtful statistics from Polaris for the massage parlor context, and at least Three different USA today stories cite a Polaris study or quoted the CEO of the group.

Other anti-trafficking groups are also using the recent attacks to further the narrative that massage parlors are just sites of abuse and exploitation.. Thursday, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women issued a statement calling on Atlanta law enforcement to investigate “possible links to sex trafficking” at the salons where the shootings took place. These groups argue that violence stems from the very idea that someone is exchanging sex for money; sformer workers and their allies know that in reality much of it comes from laws against sex workthe authorities whoforce them and groups like these, which only fuel fear, stigma and misunderstanding.

“Society knows how to solve the problem, but it continues to harm the community because of its moral agenda, its racist ideas,” said Elene Lam, executive director of Butterfly, a Toronto-based group for Asian and migrant sex workers, during a vigil for Asian massage therapists who were killed on Tuesday. “People are being killed by sexism, racism, putophobia, by the state and by the NGOs that claim to save sex workers.”

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