The authors report a new, important phenomenon: photo-assisted etching of p-type Si in chlorine-containing plasmas. This mechanism was discovered in mostly Ar plasmas with a few percent added Cl2, but was found to be even more important in pure Cl2 plasmas. Nearly monoenergetic ion energy distributions (IEDs) were obtained by applying a synchronous dc bias on a “boundary electrode” during the afterglow of a pulsed, inductively coupled, Faraday-shielded plasma. Such precisely controlled IEDs allowed the study of silicon etching as a function of ion energy, at near-threshold energies. Etching rates increased with the square root of the ion energy above the observed threshold of 16 eV, in agreement with published data. Surprisingly, a substantial etching rate was observed, independent of ion energy, when the ion energy was below the ion-assisted etching threshold. Experiments ruled out chemical etching by Cl atoms, etching assisted by Ar metastables, and etching mediated by holes and/or low energy electrons generated by Auger neutralization of low-energy ions, leaving photo-assisted etching as the only likely explanation. Experiments were carried out with light and ions from the plasma either reaching the surface or being blocked, showing conclusively that the “sub-threshold” etching was due to photons, predominately at wavelengths < 1700 Å. The photo-assisted etching rate was equal to the ion-assisted etching rate at 36 eV, causing substantial complications for processes that require low ion energies to achieve high selectivity and low damage, such as atomic layer etching. Under these conditions, photo-assisted etching likely plays an important role in profile evolution of features etched in Si with chlorine-containing plasmas, contributing to the commonly observed sloped sidewalls and microtrenches.