The United States has stalled. Congress has not passed a spending bill to provide the government funding to do what it needs to do. The heart of the disagreement between the country’s two main political parties is national health care: Republicans disagree with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as “Obamacare”) and wish to defund or otherwise weaken it. Democrats vehemently oppose them, refusing to allow the other party to chip away any provisions in the law, which was passed in 2010. The U.S. congress consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate; currently, the House is dominated by Republicans and the Senate is under the control of Democrats. Plans have been going from one to the other, much like a slow and utterly demoralizing game of soccer.
It’s been a week since the shutdown began. The last one, which occurred in 1995, lasted a whopping 21 days. In the meantime, national parks, museums and zoos (sonme 368 sites) will be closed. Anyone without a passport will have to locate a processing center that isn’t located in a federal building. Government loans, gun permits, funding for shelters, the Food and Drug Administration’s food-safety operations — all affected. There’s a freaking salmonella outbreak affecting hundreds across the nation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is down to one third of its staff.
While Congress and the president continue to get paid, some 800,000 furloughed government employees and people who depend on government assistance are on hold without paychecks. Some have a chance of eventually receiving back pay, but for the moment, it’s tough times nationwide. Meanwhile online, sex work-lite sites such as SeekingArrangement.com are reporting a jump in new accounts.
SeekingArrangement.com is a site that helps connect people looking for an extra source of revenue to potential dates who might provide. The site enables users to specify what kind of trade-off they want. According to NPR, SeekingArrangement.com has seen a fifty percent jump in daily user signups since September 29 — the eve of the government shutdown. All of these new users originate in the U.S. NPR reports that a similar site WhatsYourPrice.com, where users bid for dates on profiles, has gone from 500 new users per day to 900 within the same time frame — a time frame that in past years has seen no such growth for this site.
“We usually have a lull in September and October,” SeekingArrangement.com’s public relations manager, Jennifer Gwynn, told NPR. “For us to peak at the end of the month in September, and this week in general, it makes no sense for us to have a growth like this. Half of the new members are single moms, so we’re thinking that it’s tied directly to the government shutdown, since programs like WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), that help more than 9 million moms, have been stalled. It would make no sense for growth otherwise.”
A lot of people reporting on this have suggested that this is just a clever way to get press for such sites, and while we don’t doubt that they (as well as companies like vibrators.com, which as Vice reports, is giving away free vibes to anyone who includes the code “shutdown” during check-out) have very clever public relations and marketing specialists on their side, we also shouldn’t find it so hard to believe that sex work, in its many variations, happens. The industry is large and populated with more than simply victims of trafficking and glamorous call girls. Many people engage in sex work — all of them with a different story of how they arrived.
As more people look to sites that enable these mutually-beneficial relationships, or to gentlemen’s clubs, or to escorting outright, I can’t help but wonder how attitudes toward sex work will change as a result. Will the shutdown help normalize sex work?