Sex Trafficking: Is There An App For That?

When Craigslist shuttered the doors of their adult services section, the feminist blogosphere was divided: Was it a victory for anti-sex trafficking campaigns or a setback for sex worker activists? Regardless of their particular disagreements over the services provided by Craigslist’s adult section, most agreed that the deletion of the section would not stop the sale of girls. As Carrie Baker wrote here, on the Ms. Blog, “Other websites will certainly pick up the slack.” According to blogger Amanda Kloer, a new iPhone app–PinPointsX–has done just that.

PinPointsX, a location-aware app which allows users “direct access to all imaginable erotic resources around the user,” has directly marketed itself to former Craigslist Adult Services users.  In a press release the company issued on September 7, they described themselves an “improved substitute for Craigslist’s adult service section.”

PinPointsX set up is relatively simple: Create an online profile, download the app and then you can view what the company calls your “Passion Map.” The Passion Map will show you icons which represent people and places in your immediate vicinity who are interested in an erotic encounter. You can message them and agree on a place to meet; PinPointsX will even recommend bars and hotels. For the first nine months of its existence, PinPointsX worked with the  professional escort community.  Two days after my initial inquiry to the company, their PR representative, Brian Gross, sent an e-mail informing me that they have since stopped working with that community.

In her petition to remove PinPointsX from Apple’s app store, Kloer argues that the app is a mobile, and thus more dangerous, version of Craigslist. She writes:

With PinPointsX, pimps can advertise and sell girls with absolutely no barriers or traceability. They don’t have to risk using an IP address to post on a static website, they can continuously move their ‘product’ around while simultaneously advertising them, and, unsurprisingly, the PinPointsX company has put exactly zero safeguards in place to prevent the use of their product for exploitation. Smart phones are already making it easier and cheaper for pimps to profit from selling trafficked girls and women. And the PinPointsX app will likely accelerate that process.

Kloer’s arguments make a few logical leaps. From “erotic partners and facilitators,” she interpolates “i.e. pimps,” rather than considering that, like Craigslist, many users are consenting adults. And while there is no concrete evidence that users of the app are, in fact, pimps, Kloer does raise compelling points about the safety of the app itself.

When I contacted PinPointsX, its vp of marketing, Rudy Dallal, told me in an e-mailed statement that, unlike Craigslist, their product has many “barriers and buffers” which are “not attractive to the criminal who wishes to remain under the radar.” Though the company did put barriers in place (it requires credit-card verification, long registration and an IP address), let’s be honest: These barriers are easy enough to bypass, as evidenced by the users of  Craigslist’s adult services section. And while the initial registration requires an IP address, an iPhone app can (and usually does) work from a dynamic IP address, making it difficult to trace.

Nevertheless, Dallal addressed some of Kloer’s criticisms directly:

PinPointsX does not seek the business of criminals, human traffickers or pimps. We, as a company and as human beings, deplore the abuse of women and children and regret that it is an ugly aspect of our society. Although we have not yet had a complaint about a registered business in the nine months since our company launched, we are open to full cooperation with law enforcement should the situation arise.

Regardless of the intention of the company or the legitimate adult users who seek its services, technologies will always be adapted to facilitate the worst of human intentions. But it also seems mistaken to fight the technology rather than the underlying problems. Both in its use and abuse by predators, technology will always outpace the fight to end human trafficking. As Melissa Gira Grant wrote, it seems “criminally shortsighted” to police technologies rather than taking action to end violence in the sex trade. Perhaps Monica Shores said it best:

It’s hard to believe that purchasers of sex will be deterred … or that pimps who had no qualms about lying to, raping, kidnapping and abusing teenagers will suddenly be reformed because [Craigslist’s] Adult Services is gone.

What’s clear is that the Craigslist debate has migrated from one technological format to another–from computer to cell phone and from stationary to mobile. PinPointsX has already generated quite a bit of interest from users, including one who celebrates it as “Grindr for straight folks.” And because of both user interests and PinPointsX’s early success, other apps like it are bound to appear.  The technology war is a losing battle. Perhaps it’s time, as Gira Grant and Shores suggests, to debate the real issues that adult services and PinPointsX raise: the legalization of prostitution, the institutionalized violence that girls rescued from the sex trade face and our own perceptions about sex workers.

And for those who were unmoved by arguments that Craigslist’s adult services users would journey further underground to purchase sex, they were right: Now you just have to download an app.

Photo from user William Hook through Creative Commons License 2.0


  1. Monica Shores says:

    Thanks for such a thorough article and for the kind shout out!

  2. When there are still pre-pubescent girls in NY whose pimps put them on the street–and the problem still exists AND no pimp has had his throat cut for it–going after technology is another straw man that deflects the ineptitude of the legal system and the passivity of our populace.

    • Everyone wants to eliminate women and child trafficking, and just because there's an app to find flings, it doesn't mean its being violated based on presumptions of people and past services that are dissimilar to the concept.

      Anyone can misuse social networks, such as facebook and other dating websites. PinPointsX is just offering what many adults want and that is sex, not to violate any laws regarding human trafficking.

      • snobographer says:

        "Everyone wants to eliminate women and child trafficking"

        Not the traffickers or the johns.

        And anybody who thinks most prostituted women are prostituted of their own free will should go out and prostitute themselves. Men included.

  3. Tom Seattle says:

    Seems like this a kind of a hypothetical, 'maybe could be used' sort of thesis.

    There are lots of anonymous IP services out there that could be used to find love in all wrong places, able to dodge any IP traces… So, where's the story?

  4. I almost can't stand reading the comment or articles by so-called "thoughtful" feminists. There is a woman in California who has been in prison since she was 16 for killing her pimp who had serially raped her since she was 14. The simple question is what should you do to fight Human Trafficking? The correct answer is "*EVERYTHING* you can!"

    PinPointX's response smacks of Craigslist style of denying they are facilitating evil, while at the same time making pimps rich, and victims of Human Trafficking harder to identify and rescue.

    If you think that Human Trafficking is not an issue where you live, please contact Polaris Project or any number of other fine organizations that fight this evil. If you are for freedom for women, you MUST be against Human Trafficking. Pimps are counting on you to look the other way. Please don't do it!

  5. As a sex worker, I really do wish more time was spent on worrying about how our human and civil rights are routinely trampled because we're considered criminals of the lowest order; sub-human. Sex trafficking happens and it's a problem but it is NOT the biggest problem we face nor is it the one affecting the majority of sex workers. For instance, police abuse and harassment is a bigger issue than sex trafficking. Bad clients who know they can literally get away with murder is another big issue. Women with prostitution-arrest records who can't get another job because they are considered sex offenders is yet another major issue.

    Worrying about an iPhone app? REALLY???

  6. I agree with Amanda the whore. Prostitution has been around forever, and it is very stupid to think it's going to go away. Making prostitution legal would fix a lot of the harm that's being done. Instead of being treated like criminals, prostitutes need to be treated like any other work force.

    A blue collar factory worker putting cars together with his arms is selling his arms, a white collar worker who works with his brain is selling his brain. A mover carrying stuff is selling his back. You name it, it's been sold. Why is it wrong to sell the services of the more erotic parts of your body if that's how you wish to earn a living? There is no reason it should be illegal.

    Next: by definition of "pimp" a prostitute's family/children count as her pimps if they receive financial backing from her (pimp is defined as someone who lives off the earnings of a prostitute) … and that's just crazy!

    Feminists who say women can't sell sex cause the biggest harm to women. By saying they are not allowed to give sex for money they are chipping away at the hard-earned freedoms women have earned. By making it a crime, they are making criminals out of law abiding citizens.

    I'm a male and I never used the services of a prostitute and I am quite disgusted by the idea of prostitutes, but I fully respect other people's rights to visit prostitutes or be prostitutes themselves. They have every right to it, and if we want to keep these women safe, then making prostitution legal and bringing it to the light where it can be properly regulated is the way to go.

    Respect women's rights: make prostitution legal. It will save lives.

  7. Jeff Lewis says:
  8. Jeff Lewis says:

    The numbers of sex trafficking sex slaves:
    There is a lot of controversy over the numbers of adult woman who are forced sex slaves. The real factual answer is that no one knows. There is hard evidence that the sex slavery/sex trafficking issue continues to report false information and is greatly exaggerated by politicians, the media, and aid groups, feminist and religious organizations that receive funds from the government, The estimate of adult women who become new sex slaves ranges anywhere from 40 million a year to 5,000 per year all of which appear to be much too high. They have no evidence to back up these numbers, and no one questions them about it. Their sources have no sources, and are made up numbers. In fact if some of these numbers are to believed which have either not changed or have been increased each year for the past twenty years, all woman on earth would currently be sex slaves. Yet, very few real forced against their will sex slaves have been found.

  9. Making prostitution legal is amoral – bottom line. Sex is something that should be intimately given where love is involved and between a married couple. There is a reason for the empty feeling that follows a one night stand or selling your body (sex) for money. Selling sex is not just like any other trade and to make such a claim is reckless. Porn leads to rape, violence and child molestation – this includes protitution and human trafficking. This evil will never completely end, because we are all sinners in a fallen world. We should all try and reduce porn and sex slavery as much as humanly possible.

  10. According to the media hype There was supposed to be hundreds of thousands of under age child sex slaves kidnapped and forced to have sex with super bowl fans. At the Dallas Super Bowl 2011. WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL OF THEM????????????

    It was all a big lie told by various anti-prostitution groups, Traffick911 and the Dallas Women’s Foundation, which are anti-prostitution groups that tell lies in order to get grant money from the government and charities to pay their high salaries. As proved in the link below:

    Top FBI agent in Dallas (Robert Casey Jr.) sees no evidence of expected spike in child sex trafficking:

    “Among those preparations was an initiative to prevent an expected rise in sex trafficking and child prostitution surrounding the Super Bowl. But Robert Casey Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, said he saw no evidence that the increase would happen, nor that it did.
    “In my opinion, the Super Bowl does not create a spike in those crimes,” he said. “The discussion gets very vague and general. People mixed up child prostitution with the term human trafficking, which are different things, and then there is just plain old prostitution.”

    This myth of thousands or millions of underage sex slaves tries to make every sports fan a sex criminal. No matter what the sport is, or in what country it is in.

    Brian McCarthy isn't happy. He's a spokesman for the NFL. Every year he's forced to hear why his customers are adulterers and child molesters. Brian McCarthy says the sport/super bowl sex slave story is a urban legend, with no truth at all.

    These links will give you more information about sex trafficking

  11. We should protect our young girls and boys from the horrible pain and suffering of sexual exploitation.

  12. Thanks for sharing.

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