Sex worker fury

Australian sex workers are up in arms after Visa and MasterCard blocked payments to a popular sex work advertisement website., which operates in America and Australia, is heavily used by local sex workers to place small advertisements.

On Wednesday night Visa, MasterCard and American Express all blocked payments using credit and debit cards for sexual services ads on the site – the result of a campaign being run against the site in America, where sex work is illegal.

In Australia, where sex work is decriminalized in most states, that's causing outcry among sex workers who feel they are being unfairly discriminated against by the payments giants.

"We shouldn't be taking away people's livelihoods just purely because the industry that they are in is one that we don't understand or one that bothers us," sex worker Lucie Bee told Fairfax Media.

Backpage is widely used by sex workers, particularly those new to the industry who can't afford more expensive advertising or their own private websites.

On Thursday night the Melbourne Backpage site had almost 1500 sex work listings. Backpage has grown popular since competitor Craigslist stopped offering adult services listings.

"These sites are often some of the best options for new sex workers, for those that perhaps can't afford to pay the ad costs for more exclusive websites," Mrs Bee said.

"It's going straight for people who are of a lower socio economic status... who are trying to support themselves, their families, or a drug habit in some cases."

In a statement, Visa said its rules prohibited card transactions for "illegal activity".

"Visa has a long history of working with law enforcement to safeguard the integrity of the payment system and we will continue to do so."

That's not good enough for local sex workers, like Fleur.

"The biggest issue is not whether I can post an ad; it's that in Australia sex work is legal. I'm not doing anything illegal. It's a very clear case of discrimination."

The card companies' decisions stem from a campaign run by Chicago sheriff Tom Dart, who has been running a campaign against sex classifieds websites like Backpage.

"Institutions such as yours have the moral, social and legal right to step up on this pervasive problem and make a fundamental and everlasting difference," Dart wrote in the letter to MasterCard.

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