Acceptance matters

Welcome to Sex and the State, a newsletter about power. To support my work toward decriminalizing and destigmatizing everything sex please buy a subscriptionfollow me on OnlyFans, or just share this post with a friend or on a social network!

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Today sex workers across the globe are protesting dangerous financial discrimination and exclusion. Please sign the petition and share the link with the hashtag #acceptancematters if you think sex work is work and sex workers deserve access to financial services.

While OnlyFans might have reversed their decision to ban “explicit content,” the fight for online freedom of expression has just begun. OnlyFans is just one front in the burgeoning War on Sex.

MasterCard recently announced strict requirements on adult sites which will harm platforms and sex workers. These changes are in response to public relations campaigns from anti-sex evangelical groups spreading falsehoods about online pornography. 

OnlyFans has claimed their decisions have been motivated by pressure from banks and payment processors and that they were able to walk back the porn ban after reaching an agreement with their banks. 

There’s good reason to believe this is true. Late last year Nicolas Kristof published an article in the New York Times accusing PornHub of breaking the law by not doing enough to stop users from uploading copyrighted videos, videos of underage performers, and videos depicting non-consensual violence. Around this time, MasterCard and Visa dropped Pornhub.

Kristof’s main source for the story was Laila Mickelwait, who heads up evangelical, anti-porn organization TraffickingHub, which spun out of evangelical group Exodus Cry, which spun out of the anti-gay group known as the International House of Prayer. Around this time, Mickelwait and TraffickingHub organized a disinformation campaign accusing Pornhub of links to sex trafficking with zero credible evidence. Evangelical, anti-porn advocates flooded MasterCard and Visa with “tens of thousands” of comments asking them to drop Pornhub. Mickelwait also testified before the U.S. Financial Services Committee.

MasterCard execs listened to Mickelwait and the campaign, and recently announced plans to require porn sites (but no one else) to pre-screen all content before posting. 

These groups’ ultimate goal isn’t to combat sex trafficking or exploitation of women. 

The ultimate goal, according to Mickelwait herself, is to “abolish” sex work and ban online porn. TraffickingHub and similar religious-right organizations are using obscenity law, the DOJ, state legislators, credulous reporters, and conservative commentators to push for outright bans of all forms of sexual material. 

And they’ve been stunningly successful. As of 2019, 16 states had declared pornography a “public health crisis,” a first step toward banning porn. Across the country, state legislatures are attempting to ban porn and mandate porn filters using false talking points taken straight from evangelical websites. Religious-right Republican Rep Ann Wagner recently wrote letter to the DOJ accused OnlyFans of being a “major marketplace for Child Sexual Abuse Material” without offering any evidence this is true.

We know the goal isn’t really to combat CSAM, sex trafficking, or exploitation of women because banning online porn won’t do any of that. First, why go after Pornhub and OnlyFans? Facebook is by all objective measures a much bigger source of revenge porn and CSAM than Pornhub or any other adult site. 

Second, there’s no reality in which online porn goes away. We have only to look at 2018’s SESTA/FOSTA (which Wagoner wrote and Exodus Cry promoted) to see what pushing sex underground actually accomplishes. 

Ostensibly aimed at reducing sex trafficking, the bill made sex work more dangerous, exacerbated sex trafficking, and led online platforms to censors vast swaths of sex-related content including sex education and nationally recognized child sexual abuse prevention organizations. Fear of prosecution under the extremely broadly written SESTA/FOSTA may have played a part in OnlyFans’ decision to ban porn. 

We know stigmatizing and criminalizing porn makes it more dangerous and damaging for everyone involved. And we know how to actually reduce sex trafficking and sexual exploitation while improving public health. That’s why the ACLU, Amnesty International, the WHO, and the Lancet support decriminalizing sex work. 

Any group who doesn’t support the real solutions to sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and CSAM but only offers solutions that make sex workers less safe is not a good or honest actor. It’s telling that not only is Mickelwait pushing for policies that kill sex workers, but she actually recently published CSAM on her Twitter account.  

What sex workers need are safe places to earn a living online. OnlyFans removed the need for studios, directors, and producers and made it easy for creators to connect with our fans as directly as possible for a smaller cut of our earnings than any other platform had offered. 

Taking porn off OnlyFans doesn’t make anyone safer. It will only lead to sex workers having to scramble to make ends meet, turning to more dangerous alternatives like underground sites and in-person sex work. 

As long as banks and payment processors can put special rules on our platforms and kick us off without warning or recourse there can be no safe place on the internet for sex workers. 

Companies like SpankPay are trying to solve the problem with crypto, but the reality is that there’s just too much regulatory uncertainty and uneven enforcement for crypto to be a viable solution. Any sex worker making a living wage in crypto has to fear the feds kicking down their door for money laundering. Small, vulnerable creators are going to prison for paperwork errors while big banks like HSBC launder billions and get small fines. High-risk payment processors charge exorbitant fees. 

OnlyFans likely walked back their decision due to a public relations backlash as reporters refused to simply repeat evangelical groups’ lies this time and actually listened to sex workers and real trafficking victims. 

The only way to ensure sex workers have a safe place to work online is to pressure MasterCard and other banks and payment processors to stop cowtowing to evangelical groups who are happy to spread disinformation about porn and push policies that kill sex workers. 

Sex will win in the end. Porn isn’t going away, just as drugs refused to disappear when we declared war on them in the 1970s. But as long as we let fringe groups determine who’s allowed to safely earn a living online the marginalized will continue to disproportionately suffer and die in combat. And the rest of us will have to rely on shady, underground websites for our porn. 

We need to make MasterCard (and all other banks and payment processors) understand that financial discrimination and exclusion isn’t okay. If you agree, sign the petition and share the link with the hashtag #acceptancematters.