She tried taking her own life. An Army veteran living with disability, she could not get this surgical care from her usual provider, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which does not pay for or perform gender transition-related surgeries.
Stark calls Wisconsin home but mostly lives out of a suitcase, maintaining a busy schedule as an escort, adult film performer, photographer and phone sex operator. But now, her career is coming to an abrupt end after a bill passed by Congress in March. Senate approves anti-sex-trafficking bill.
I just call it the end of my career, essentially," she said. The bill, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act , prompted the online bulletin board Craigslist to shut down its personal ads two days after its passage.
The bill was directed against sex trafficking, not the volitional career in sex work to which Stark credits her own survival. Craigslist is an online classifieds site, divided by city or geographic area, through which users advertise a range of goods, services, jobs and housing. Now awaiting the president's signature, the bill paves the way for sex trafficking survivors to hold websites accountable for "knowingly" facilitating their abuse.
The legislation chips away at part of a act that gave a broad layer of immunity to online companies, such as Facebook or Twitter, from being held liable for what their users post. The company did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. Though the bill aims to crack down on sex trafficking and protect survivors, critics say it threatens the lives and livelihoods of sex workers who choose to work in the profession by encouraging websites like Craigslist to censor their content -- pushing some sex workers back out to the street and removing their tools for finding and screening clients.
Some sex workers are already losing their housing as a direct result of forums like Craigslist personals going dark, according to Christa B. Daring, board president of the Sex Workers Outreach Project.
Many pay rent week-to-week and struggle to feed themselves and their children, they said. Craigslist was the first site Stark used to transition away from the street, where she relied on her military training to make "snap judgments" to stay out of harm's way, dodge potentially dangerous clients and avoid getting arrested -- again. Even with the advantage of her military training, however, "most often, physical appearance and demeanor really don't tell you a whole lot," she said.
Many sex workers run background checks on clients, communicate through online forums and check "bad date lists," which sex workers create to warn others about hostile clients. Stark also has a mandatory hour waiting period before she agrees to meet clients, giving her time to check for criminal records and other warning signs.
She learned ways to stay safe and grow her business from other sex workers online, some of whom keep blogs. We can mentor each other. We can support each other. We can screen our clients," said Akynos. Bolstering these concerns about sex worker safety is a recent research paper -- still under peer review -- that suggests Craigslist's "erotic" services section may be linked to a drop in the female homicide rate.
Prostitutes speak out against Senate health bill. I don't think Waco had one. But Craigslist didn't launch this section in every city at the same time.
Cunningham's team found that cities where Craigslist launched the section for erotic services reduced their female homicide rate by up to However, it is not possible to say what portion of those homicide victims were sex workers, Cunningham said, nor is it possible to prove that Craigslist was directly responsible for the dip.
This reduction wasn't seen for other types of homicides Cunningham analyzed. The research gives quantitative insight into what is likely to happen in the wake of the new bill, he said.
Some of them go back to working for a pimp. Some of them, maybe they advertise on the dark web. Limited information exists on the number of sex workers in the United States, including illegal acts of prostitution.
Many definitions of sex work include a broader variety of services beyond prostitution, such as "erotic performances. Akynos expects that black sex workers will be some of the hardest hit by the anti-trafficking legislation. She recently founded a group called the Black Sex Worker Collective to "help facilitate sex workers who may be looking to exit the business, as well as support those that are in the business. We're already criminalized in so many more ways than white people are, period," said Akynos, who specified that she was not talking about sex work alone.
What is going to happen to us as a whole? The bill's supporters, including 97 senators who voted for the legislation, say it will give law enforcement tools in the fight against sex trafficking and enable survivors and their families to seek justice in the court system.
The bill followed a two-year Senate investigation into online sex trafficking on the classified ads site Backpage. The situation is so severe on Craigslist Casual Encounters that posts by real women who are actually seeking hook-ups are often flagged for removal at the slightest cause for suspicion.
The most common scams are "safe dating" websites. An alleged woman will write a man saying she's interested, but that because of the Craigslist-based serial killers and rapists in the news, she needs some extra assurance that it's safe.
If you follow the link she provides, the website asks you for your credit card number — y'know, so it can do a background check to make sure you're not a criminal. One individual tried to get me to buy him or her virtual currency in online games like MapleStory before agreeing to hand over contact information.
Yeah, right — moving on! What little luck I'd had so far. The week was half over and I hadn't had a single bite. I decided I would have to take the initiative, so in addition to posting my own ads, I started responding to every ad from any woman who seemed at all interesting. I cast a wide net in my searches, looking up posts by straight or bisexual women between the ages of 18 and 35 who lived anywhere in Chicagoland — a large metropolitan area that's home to close to five million females.
Most of the women wanted something very specific they couldn't find in their normal lives: Someone to help play out a particular fantasy, someone vastly older than them or someone of another race. Very few of the women who were advertising seemed to be looking for anything I would consider a "normal encounter. I typically wrote two or three paragraph replies and matched the tone of their own messages, then attached a couple of tasteful photos of myself.
I didn't get a single reply from an actual prospect this way. It turned out that most of the ads were fakes from scammers, and quite a few fell into another category all together.
Prostitution is what made Craigslist controversial. There's technically another section for that — "Adult Services," formerly "Erotic Services" — but that's not the only place you'll find practitioners of the world's oldest profession. The prostitutes of Craigslist speak in code, but it's not a difficult one to learn.
They advertise "French lessons" — an odd thing to advertise under "Casual Encounters," don't you think? Well, it's obviously a euphemism for something else. Many of the ads that weren't from scammers were from prostitutes.
The ads are so obvious that it's surprising the euphemisms are effective in fending off law enforcement. Then again, maybe they are law enforcement. Amidst all those failures, I had one near-success. A woman wrote in response to my sweet "cuddling first" ad saying she was in town for only a couple of months, and that she was frustrated she couldn't find a relationship. When she sent her pictures, she looked plain but attractive. We exchanged a couple of e-mails over the course of two hours, tossing back and forth lists of interests and the like.
She made it clear that she wanted to meet up, and while she talked about starting slow, it was clear that it would indeed be a casual encounter. But when I suggested a time to meet — the last message from me before I would reveal myself and back out — there was no reply. At least, not yet.
The next day, she e-mailed me saying she was deeply apologetic and that she'd fallen asleep. She said she'd like to meet up sometime. So yes, there are women on Craigslist. Well, at least one! You've probably guessed by now that the experiences for heterosexual men and women on Craigslist's casual encounters are quite different.
I observed that for every ad a woman posts, there are at least 20 from men. If nothing else, that imbalance ought to alter the experience. To get the female perspective, I did two things: I posted a fake ad as a woman to see what kinds of responses I would get, and I interviewed two women who have had success hooking up on casual encounters in the past.
As for potential suitors, I asked only that they supply a photo and "be attractive and not creepy. There was a five minute delay before my ad appeared, then I started receiving about one response per minute.
Most of them were careful to say "I don't do this often. Some sent pictures of themselves naked along with the word "Hi. There were a lot of expressions of sympathy over my fake breakup. I was hearing from men of all types, and it seemed I had my pick of the litter.
After about thirty minutes, though, my post was flagged for removal. I thought I'd made it look legit, but as we learned earlier, folks have good reason to be hawkish about scammers. After the end of my test run with Craigslist casual encounters, I decided to get more insight into the female experience with the site by interviewing two women who said they had successes meeting up with men on Casual Encounters. Their problem was the opposite of mine. They had too many options to pick from, but they both dealt with the numerous choices in the same way.
Both women ultimately responded to men who they felt put effort into writing long, personal messages as opposed to quick notes. Multiple paragraphs of insightful and relatable prose won out — but only after the initial test of physical appearance. Both said they immediately eliminated men who opened with pictures of genitalia — a very common practice. However, looks were important. One of the women I interviewed said she once had a crush on a client at her job, but couldn't make a move without compromising her professionalism.
However, she was looking through Casual Encounters and saw an ad from a man, and she recognized his writing style — it was her old client!.