Sex-negative Discrimination: How Online Payment Companies Fail Adult Industry
If you are a freelancer or independent contractor, you must be familiar with how hard it can sometimes be to get paid. But what if the normal ways to invoice and charge clients are off-limits to you? People employed in the adult industry have to get creative in order to be compensated for their efforts. These restrictions have even been experienced by makers of sex toys and specialty clothing. Developers and educators are trying to change the industry with cultural projects that spread positive awareness of the adult industry, and even create a dedicated currency. But there are still a lot of day-to-day limitations that stem from this stigma, and much of it has to do with cash flow.
While online payments and digital wallets have freed up the flow of cash for people to shop online or reimburse each other for meals and the like, these services have many caveats. For people who access their entire income through digital wallets, every change in the terms can be extremely disruptive. PayPal alone has been used as an example of a popular payment option that is very unpredictable when it comes to adult products and services. Their Acceptable Use Policy is vague in language and application, restricting merchants from charging for “items that are considered obscene” and “certain sexually oriented materials or services.” These can cover a lot of subjective ground!
PayPal has used various reasons to limit financial activity from adult industry-related accounts. They have a long list of reasons to freeze accounts such as uneven money flow, unverified information, or a login from a different location than usual. But one item in particular they use for this specific industry is that it’s high risk. Citing higher chargebacks and rates of fraudulent activity as a reason to not support this industry, the limitations apply to digital content. This lead adult content performer Kitty Stryker to condemn PayPal for it’s uneven service.
Use policies, vague language, and inconsistent enforcement can cause a lot of stress for an independent business. This has been the case with Patreon, a platform for content creators that has at points been sex-positive and lucrative for a wide variety of artists and performers. In Stryker’s case, she used Patreon back in 2014 to fund writing and public speaking gigs, not the erotic films she sometimes performs in or produces. “I was finding it refreshing to be making a living (albeit barely) through getting paid to write on my experiences in the sex industry, giving me some hope that I could transition out, and still survive financially. Finally I was getting paid for my writing… not in ‘exposure,’ but in rent money!”
But Patreon contacted Stryker when PayPal withdrew support from adult content-themed accounts. They had to change her Patreon URL and account setting to private, as well as request all of her patrons to switch payment methods from PayPal to credit card. Since then, Patreon has shifted their support in an even more sex-work negative direction. The community guidelines were updated late 2017 so that creators must indicate whether they create “Adult Content,” thus removing themselves from the public search results of the site. The content supported by patrons or rewards given must be free of pornographic material, sexual services, or private webcam sessions.
There’s been constant shifting of support from Patreon, PayPal and most other mainstream digital payment options like Amazon, Stripe and Square. This shifting undermined dependable income for a vulnerable section of the independent workforce - sex workers in particular are more likely to experience sexual assault, and are less likely to be supported in legal action against those assaults. Reporting violence is less likely to lead to enforcement or arrest, and can even backfire and cause themselves to be arrested or charged with an offense. This is particularly the case for non-citizens, trans women, and those with criminal records.
Additionally, the stigma that informs the poor support by payment companies applies to those who need funds for non-professional purposes or are moving out of sex work as well. Fetish porn performer Eden Alexander created a GiveForward fundraiser after a series of medical emergencies landed her in crippling debt. Alexander retweeted some supporters that had posted erotic images to encourage others to contribute to her campaign. This was flagged by WePay, the financial component of GiveForward, and the donated funds were withdrawn from her account. Similar to Kitty Stryker’s story, Bella Vendetta raised funds to fly a performance artist in Norway to a local event. Her account was frozen and she was banned, according to a Motherboard interview, “citing her history of sex work as a sign that she was "high risk" and not fit to use PayPal, even for a fundraiser for a friend.”
There are more options available as efforts from activists like Cindy Gallop, founder of Make Love Not Porn, become more mainstream. The MLNP site uses payment processor Dwolla, but many supportive processors have their downsides. As described in the same Motherboard article, Globill shut down and users lost money, CCBill charges 10.8 to 14.5 percent in fees, and cryptocurrency is still gaining usership and support. Due to all these gray areas and uncertainties, and the impact on sex workers' life and freedom, it’s more important than ever to consider paying for content, especially if related to the adult entertainment industry.