http://www.potentialprostitutes.com is a website where anyone can submit a name, phone number and other details to forever create a record f that person being a prostitute. The site calls sexworkers “offenders” and encourages the general public to “report an offender” so sexworkers will be taught “a lesson”. There is no mention of clients’ roles or ‘culpability’ in the committing of such “offences”. So, we’ve got slut shaming and whorephobia in one near little package of malicious Naming-and-Shaming Gone Wild.
But wait, there’s more! As no doubt you’ll have guessed, the women featured on the site are more likely the victims of school bullies, colleagues, exes and neighbours than actual sexworkers. So, that’s libel. And any sexworkers who are on the site got there by exes or nasty “friends” who are keen on revenge instead of “reporting offenders”. Some “reporters” may actually be clients who have had a bit of a tiff with the sexworker in question. So, let’s recap: if they’re not sexworkers, that’s libel. If they are sexworkers, it’s very unethical to out them and they might lose their job (Melissa Petro was a teacher fired for being a call girl in her student days), get evicted, or even get murdered if they come from certain backgrounds/communities or live in certain countries.
So, it would be reasonable to expect that if a pissed-off colleague types your details into that site in a moment of rage, you’d be able to get them taken down. Well…yes. But you’ve got to pay. Bad luck if you’re a student, poor, or just got fired when your boss saw the site.
Sadly, though many “reporters” are no doubt evil scum, some may not realise the harm that can result by typing in someone’s name to that site. It’s not hard to imagine teens putting in their parents’ or teachers’ names, or friends putting in each others’ names as a joke. Or even people putting in their own names, or made-up names. Fictitious identities may cause problems for anyone with the same name as the fictitious name (The tumblr blog Predditors outed many people who posted ‘creepshots’, yet misidentified a few because of similar usernames). We still tend to regard the internet as an ‘unreal’ space, while bosses and the law regard the internet as a real space – and as a public one. We forget that the internet is forever.
This site may remind some of you of “revenge porn” or “accidental porn” sites such as IsAnybodyDown, where exes of both genders post nude photos of their ex, who then has to pay to have the photos taken down. But at least sharing sexts is quite prevalent; it is very unethical behaviour, but it is(for want of a better term) normal behaviour. PotentialProstitutes.com is much more contrived, novel, and a direct attack on sexworkers; its focus is solely on female sexworkers, unlike revenge porn sites which are designed for both genders.
All these sites are legal, because although you can sue the people who post your information, you can’t sue the site’s owners. This is the same law that says Facebook isn’t responsible for the content that you or I might post to it.
So, though a teenage boy (Matthew Woods) spent Christmas (and will spend New Year) in jail for joking about child abduction on Facebook, and Reddit’s Violentacrez got fired for creating the Jailbait subreddit (public domain photos of underage clothed girls) and being one of the moderators of the Creepshots subreddit (photos of women taken in public), we are not going to see any consequences for the people behind PotentialProstitutes.com.