Touting “anonymous” “offshore” and “dedicated” hosting, Red Umbrella stands out among web hosting service providers as a platform for sex workers, built by sex workers. The provider came about in the wake of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. These two laws give federal and state authorities the ability to target websites they suspect of facilitating sex trafficking. The intent is noble on its face. However, the definition of trafficking provided in the legislation is sweepingly broad and as many surmise, is also geared towards disabling sex workers relying on digital platforms to secure business, provide anonymity, and vet clients.
In most of the US, outright soliciting sex for money is illegal. Many services that catered to sex workers have recently been shuttered by authorities or voluntarily withdrew from the space. The argument from sex workers is that digital platforms offered them a veneer of safety and secrecy. The way things are going, many fear a return to the streets is in their near future, where sex workers and violence tend to meet. This is where red umbrella steps in.
Umbrella Hosting recently emerged with a commitment to keep sex workers off the streets and afford them the relative safety and security that digital platforms provide. Red Umbrella’s website hosting terms of service are very liberal, outlining that that most content, outside of child pornography, sex slavery, and beastiality, is fair game. Even the registration can be anonymous, while payments can also be made in gift cards and cryptocurrency.
The brand’s founder, Melissa Mariposa, poses the question when asked about her service, ““Why should people lose their years of hard work, years of brand building, marketing? Why should people lose the ability to open and run a business with a minimal start-up cost and truly live the American dream—something most people think is dead? I entered this industry on welfare. I completely turned my life around. That is not an atypical experience. Why should other people be denied the opportunities I had?”
For better or for worse, the internet offers a barrier between sex workers and clients as well as a medium in which information gathering and detailed exchanges can take place without fear of violence or detention. Putting both back on the streets is a quick way to inject suspicion, anxiety, and violence back into the dynamic.