Love & Sex Magazine

Guest Columnist: Missy Mariposa

By Maggiemcneill @Maggie_McNeill

Melissa Mariposa is an escort and owner of Red Umbrella Hosting; she has also established and improved several other sites to help other sex workers, since our options have been steadily shrinking due to the war on whores.  I asked her to write an introduction to these sites because I’ve seen too many shady operators attempting to capitalize on the panic the US government has intentionally sown in our community.

As someone with an IT background, I knew as soon as FOSTA-SESTA passed that our web presence was in trouble.  Many mainstream web hosts have officially prohibited sex work related content while actually looking the other way, but I thought this might cause a shift towards enforcing those policies — as under FOSTA-SESTA, they become liable for that content.  Without hesitation, I cancelled my next 2 tours, acquired an offshore server, and was up and running before the weekend.  I spent most of my spring both migrating and rebuilding sites from the Internet Archive for those that had lost their free sites without warning, and as I was plugging away, I started to notice a change in ad sites.  EROS was making huge policy changes but staying silent (remember they had been raided six months prior by DHS and which we still do not know what is going on), TER had excluded US providers entirely, P411 was announcing “upcoming changes”.  It seemed our ad market was slowly folding one site at a time.

Guest Columnist: Missy MariposaThen Backpage happened; they operated flagrantly with their servers in Arizona and we all paid the price.  While having an offshore setup does not make you immune in itself, there are definitely ways to maintain anonymity — otherwise  Pirate Bay would not have an almost 20 year running time.   There is a right way to do things, and Backpage did not do it.  At all.  And what I’ve since discovered (to my horror) is that none of the big ad sites in our industry were following the path laid out by internet pirates before us; no one is following best practices for a gray market site.  Not one site.  Most of them are hosted in the US, or they use Cloudflare which is a service that is in no way safe for sex workers.  The most well known escort ad sites grossed in the millions; Backpage made $135 million in 2014 alone, and sites like P411, TER, and EROS are also unquestionably in the 7 figure club.  I naively thought that these multimillion dollar businesses that get so much from us at the very least had a qualified IT person who understood the nature of what they were doing; I was wrong — and in retrospect, I was really fucking stupid to think that.  This was a sharp reminder of what I already knew:  No one is here for us, they’re here to make money off of us.  Sex workers aren’t exploited by our clients, we’re exploited by these sites, and some of the worst actors in this industry have been owners of some of the highest grossing sites.  Why do we put our money in the pockets of pimps and panderers?  Because they make us feel like we have to.  They aggregate false ads from our real ads on other sites, draw our clients in, we think that’s where clients like to look, so we make ads there and give them our money.

So I started looking around for legitimately offshore provider-run ad sites.  I was tired of putting my money in the hands of opportunistic dudebros, people who wanted to make a fast buck and should have known better, but didn’t.  I want to put my money in the hands of qualified women in IT who know our industry, know security, and who work to help us.  What I found was Have We Met, which had been around since 2016 (I was a beta tester, as I love the concept) but with strict policies that hindered them in the pre-FOSTA market.  I decided to reach out the owners (a provider and her partner) and they took me on as a silent partner.  I started implementing small changes to policy and pricing, and after a few months they asked if I would be interested in acquiring ownership of the site.  I happily accepted, and after some restructuring, Have We Met became what it is today:  A place where a provider can create a profile with their stats, website, and photos, and list themselves for free in up to 20 areas.  They can also write one single ad which is automatically listed in whatever areas they choose to list their profile; so if you’re touring 10 cities, you just add those cities to your profile, set up your ad, and the ad is automatically listed in those 10 cities when a client searches for providers — no expiration date.  Have We Met isn’t just an ad site — there is also a dual sided verification feature.  The provider and the client  are both asked eight basic, non-intrusive, non-sexual questions about the encounter involving subjects like punctuality, safety, and hygiene.  This is a checkbox only system with no room for textual fantasies of illegal activity.   After the verification is complete, it shows up on the provider’s profile to show future clients that others have found her to be clean, safe, reputable, and pleasant to be around.  Clients can pay a small fee to show verifications on their profile.  The questions clients are asked seem more helpful than what a simple “whitelisting” or “okay” provides, and I also felt this would provide a nice alternative to reviews whilst providing the assurance clients seek from them.  A “review” on the legal exchange of time for money and nothing more.  Verification without incrimination.

Guest Columnist: Missy MariposaMeanwhile, I decided to also build a simpler site, something familiar which everyone knew the feel of, which could be completely managed from a smartphone because I know a lot of providers who don’t use computers anymore except to advertise.  So SWAN was born:  A familiar-feeling classified system where everything from searching to ad building can be done from the tiny computer in your pocket.  Ads are free, and all upgrades are under $10 (and you just so happen to get $10 credit free when you sign up for the site).  Like Red Umbrella Hosting, these sites require no ID to advertise and take no personal information to get started; they both offer free advertising, with optional paid upgrades with three methods of anonymous payment: physical gift card, crypto, and money order via mail.  I do not wish to tie your work life to your real life in any way; I don’t want your drivers license or pictures of your face with your work name written on it.  Those measures, used by other sites, are overly intrusive and unnecessary.  I have tried to approach building these sites from the angle of, “What do I as a provider want?” as well as asking others.  I welcome all feedback — positive and negative — on all of my offerings so I can continuously improve them.  I want to make tools that people want.

When FOSTA-SESTA hit, some of the popular blacklists began “cleaning up” entries that had titles such as “rape”, changing them to “bad date”.  In fear that we would no longer have an unadulterated blacklist, I set up OurList; I also have a site launching this week called Relax With Me, which you’ll just have to wait and see about (I will tell you that it involves advertising and another non-vulgar alternative to traditional reviews, and will also be free for providers).  Coming up in 2019 there are two large projects on the horizon for my company Trystworthy; Michael Fattorosi has speculated that within the next year our social media options will be gone, and I agree.  So I have been working with another developer on how to best start and implement a new social platform (NOT Mastadon) and am hoping to open something by the end of the first quarter at the latest.  The other project is completely under wraps for now, but you should be hearing something soon; it’s completely different and totally unrelated to any other offering I have and I am beyond excited.  My goal going forward is that I want to continue to offer useful tools to providers in this industry affordably, reliably, and transparently; all sites I build are fully functional for providers without a single dollar invested, and optional upgrades are exactly that:  Optional.  Advertising should not be your biggest overhead, a headache, or something you dread thinking about; it should be the easiest part of your job, and that’s what I am striving to do.   These sites are labors of love for an industry that has given me my entire life.  Building tools for the future is the best way I feel I can “give back”, and I will continue working towards this goal for as long as I draw breath.


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