There’s a new app with a controversial aim – developed in consultation with sex workers and dubbed the Airbnb of sex work, this app could help keep sex workers safe. Due to legally grey areas around the unorthodox occupation, there’s a concern police could use it as a tool to harass sex workers.
Based in Montreal, “Gfendr” is a free app that has over 700 users in just two weeks of being launched. The app allows sex workers to list their service and rate clients. Clients can then research for sex workers based on their preferences and chat with their worker of choice about location and price ahead of time.
Another very important feature of the app is that sex workers can flag difficult or dangerous clients, helping others avoid future unsafe situations.
PACE, a sex worker advocacy group in Vancouver said that creators of the app reached out to them and similar groups across the country before the launch to gather feedback on the app.
“We all thought the app was great in that it helps sex workers’ ability to work safer,” said Laura Dilley, Executive Director of PACE.
Melissa Desrochers, one of the co-developers says the app was built without funding. Once it gathers move users, sex workers will be able to pay to promote their services in search results.
“This is a difficult project, but we truly think this initiative can improve their security,” she said.
On the other hand, Dilley commented that the app is only a stop-gap measure. PACE advocates for the decriminalization of this particular occupation.
Buying sex and helping advertise it is currently illegal and Dilley is concerned the police might use the app to gather data 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.
The app only needs a phone number or email to register. Desrochers emphasizes that all information is encrypted by an outside company, meaning 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).”
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