Canada New app described as the "Airbnb of sex work" could keep workers safe

21:01  05 february  2018
21:01  05 february  2018 Source:   Metro News

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a hand holding a cellphone: New app described as the © Ryan Remiorz New app described as the "Airbnb of sex work" could keep workers safe

A new app, developed in consultation with sex workers, is dubbing itself the AirBnB of sex work. Advocates say it could help keep sex workers safe, but due to legal grey zones around sex work, there’s concern police could use it as a tool to harass sex workers.

“Gfendr,” a free app developed in Montreal, has attracted 700 users since its launch two weeks ago, and allows sex workers to list their services and rate clients.

In turn, clients can search for sex workers based on their preferences and chat with their chosen service provider about location and price ahead of time.

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Ultimately, sex workers can flag difficult or dangerous clients, helping others avoid unsafe situations in the future.

Vancouver sex worker advocacy group PACE said the founders of the app reached out to them, and other groups across the country, ahead of the launch and asked for feedback.

“We all thought the app was great in that it helps sex workers’ ability to work safer,” said Laura Dilley, executive director of PACE.

Co-developer Me’lissa Desrochers says she and her teammate were inspired to build the app after speaking to some sex workers at a dinner party, and discovering there was no smartphone app that put the needs and safety of sex workers first.

She and her partner have built the app without funding and once there are more users, sex workers will be able to pay to promote their services in search results.

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“This is a difficult project but we truly think this initiative can improve their security,” she said.

However, Dilley said the app is only a stop-gap measure. Her group advocates for the decriminalization of sex work.

Given current laws that say buying sex work and helping advertise for sex work are illegal, she’s concerned the police might use the app to gather information on sex workers and clients.

“The app is basically a third party, advertising on behalf of sex workers. A lot of the lawyers we talked to didn't feel that the app was actually legal,” she said.

Gfendr only requires a phone number or email to register, and Desrocher assures that this and all other identifying information gathered is encrypted by an outside company, so even she doesn’t have access to it.

“We’re trying to navigate within the law,” she said. Ultimately, “the collective benefit is more important than the individual risk we can have (as the developers),”she said.

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