Thank you to the amazing community knowledge which pulled these together and to Liara Roux,who cleaned up and added significant additional writing to the document.
This is a living document – a combination of reporting and data tracking we will continuously update. We’ve found over 100 companies, institutions, and discrete products (like Skype or Youtube) that in some way discriminate or ban sex work or adult products OR have been shut down completely following increased anti-sex work legislation.
As sex workers are not a protected group under US law, companies and institutions have a wide berth when it comes to setting policies to discriminate against people working in sex related jobs or at sex related companies – everything from full service sex workers and porn performers to people who make and sell toys or safety products.
This list is mostly focused on the sex industry in the United States of America, but due to the global nature of many of these companies, the impact is felt worldwide. If you’re not a sex worker, and you’ve landed here, imagine trying to run your business, or just live your daily life, without access to all these commonly used things. Keep in mind that when sex workers are pushed off these platforms, they’re often pushed off altogether and permanently under any name even if they are not actually using that platform for sex work. These policies also directly impact other marginalized groups – especially trans women and women of color – with “walking while black” and “walking while trans” being memes for a reason.
We are working on a list of recommended and safe services for sex workers, but it’s honestly a LOT harder, especially with the daily addition of anti-sex work TOS changes and the current constant loss of sex work specific sites. Here is the link: Technical Resources for Sex Workers.
Financial discrimination is a huge issue for sex workers and extremely under reported in the media. Regardless of the kind of sex work they do, they’re at risk of losing their livelihood at any minute when kicked off a platform. People report having personal bank accounts closed once the bank learned of their profession and they’ve been kicked off of personal fundraising platforms like GoFundMe while trying to get help from friends and family with healthcare.
Banking and Payments
- JP Morgan Chase Bank – Reported: XBIZ, Daily Dot, Daily Beast, Vice, Inc.
- Bank of America – Reported: Fast Company
- Capital One Bank – from personal experience (Jocelyn Mae)
- Citi Bank – From personal experience (Marla Lyons) (Kristen DiAngelo) (Gina DePalma)
- Credit unions – from personal experience (Liara Roux)
- Loan/Mortgage denial – Reported: Fast Company, anonymous sources on their own housing struggles
- Visa/Mastercard and Merchant Accounts – reported: Engadget
- VC Firms and Investors – Reported: Fast Company
See also “Operation Choke Point” and Tom Dart’s Letters to Payment Processors Skirting the Legal System
(h/t missfreudianslit, engadget)
- PayPal – “You may not use the PayPal service for activities that… relate to transactions involving…. certain sexually oriented materials or services.”- prohibited in TOS, reporting: Engadget. PayPal has banned many people for life even if they never used PayPal for their sex related work – there are many petitions out there like this one.
- Square – “Will not accept payments in connection with … Adult entertainment oriented products or services (in any medium, including internet, telephone or printed material)” – in TOS, reporting: Engadget
- Stripe – “By registering for Stripe, you are confirming that you will not use the Service to accept payments [for] Pornography and other obscene materials (including literature, imagery and other media); sites offering any sexually-related services such as prostitution, escorts, pay-per view, adult live chat features.” – in TOS
- Braintree – A PayPal parent-company, they state “You may not use the Payment Services in connection with any product, service, transaction or activity that involves sexually-oriented or pornographic products or services.” – in TOS
- Google Wallet – “Unacceptable product – Adult goods and services – Pornography and other sexually suggestive materials (including literature, imagery and other media); escort or prostitution services.” – in TOS
- SquareCash – as above, and many personal anecdotes
- Snapcash – processed with Square, see above
- Skrill – “It is strictly prohibited or restricted to send payments in order to pay for and/or receive payments as consideration for the delivery of a) adult related and pornographic material including but not limited to websites selling videos/pictures and or DVDs of such; b) Escort services” – in TOS
- 2CheckOut – “Prohibited products- Adult Entertainment (Sexually Oriented)” – in TOS
- Intuit – “We may terminate your Merchant Agreement without prior notice to you if you fall into one of the following categories and/or accept payment for… Lingerie or passion parties; adult DVD rental/sales; adult novelties; massage parlors (without licensed massage therapists); escort services; adult digital content.” – in TOS
- Venmo – “You agree you will not use the Venmo Services [for sales of] items that are considered obscene; … certain sexually oriented materials or services; … You further agree that you will not use the Venmo Services to conduct transactions that: … are otherwise related to illegal activity, gambling, pornography, obscene material or otherwise objectionable content or activities.” – in TOS
- AmEx Serve – “You agree that you will not… Use the Service to sell personal services that are illegal or sexual in nature; Use the Service to sell any items or material that are obscene, vulgar, offensive, pornographic, profane or sexually explicit or indecent items or materials.” – in TOS
- WePay – “You will not accept payments or use the Service in connection with the following activities, items or services: Adult or adult-related services, including escort services, adult massage, or other adult-entertainment services; Adult or adult-related content, including performers or ‘cam girls’.” – in TOS, reported Daily Dot
- Circle – “So it turns out that Circle Pay has done a 180 on us and is NO LONGER SEX WORKER FRIENDLY. Has already closed multiple sex worker accounts.” (source) So much for the slogan “On a mission to create a more inclusive global economy.” “You hereby agree that you will not:…. upload, display or transmit any messages, photos, videos or other media that contain illegal goods, pornographic, violent, obscene or copyrighted images or materials for use as an avatar, in connection with a payment or payment request, or otherwise” – in TOS
- GreenDot – “Nothing was found in their Cardholder Agreement, but during a private chat they said, “The Green Dot Card cannot be used for adult website or adult services.“”- Source
- GiftRocket – “Nothing was found in their legal page, but when asked about using the site for adult services in an email: “Your customers can send you gifts through our site, but keep in mind that we are not a payment processor and that is not an approved use of our site. We also only recommend you only accept gifts on our site from people you know.” – source, also Liara Roux has heard of accounts closed from trusted primary sources
- TransferWise – from personal experience (Liara Roux, Jocelyn Mae)
- Coinbase – “When asked about using the site for adult services in an email:
“As long as your company is operating legally and compliant with all state and federal regulations, you can use Coinbase’s merchants services.” (source) but since that quote they’ve shut down accounts of both legal and gray area sex workers (from primary sources on background)
- Payoneer – “Quoted: “We provide payment options for people in the adult industry but they need to sign up through one of our partner companies in order to use Payoneer as a payment solution [like] LiveJasmin, Myfreecams and other similar sites.
“But please be advised that people working in the adult industry cannot get paid through the US Payment Service. Your Payoneer card is intended to be used as a payout solution, to get paid from any of our official partners or the US Payment Service. Your Payoneer account should not be used for the sole purpose of Private Loading. Under section 5 of the terms and conditions of that specific service does not support adult work. Please also note that the US Payment Service is not available to those residing in the US.” (source)
- Dwolla – “You will not: Engage in transactions involving escort services” – in TOS
- Google Checkout – Reported: Inc.
- Amazon Payments – Can’t allow people to pay with Amazon on your site, “the following product or services are prohibited from using Amazon Payments: Adult Oriented Products and Services – includes pornography (including child pornography), sexually explicit materials (in all media types such as Internet, phone, and printed materials), dating services, escort services, or prostitution services.“ TOS, Reported: Engadget
- Amazon Gift Cards – Also you aren’t even supposed to have an Amazon Wish List. Lame!
- Affiliate Programs – A lot of affiliate programs and tools (like Amazon and eBay) don’t allow adult products for promotion or the service to be used on sites with adult content. Enforcement seems unpredictable, via sources on background.
Note – Sex work “friendly” processors charge high fees and take a larger cut of each transaction, putting sex related businesses at a disadvantage in the global marketplace and tilting the porn industry from independent content creators towards major companies like MindGeek that often have abusive labor practices.
- GoFundMe – GoFundMe cancels sex workers’ legal fundraising efforts (of a non-profit legal group, not like individual is doing non-criminal activities), pulls down pages of sex workers trying to pay for medical bills – From Personal Experience (Keiki)
- Patreon – Tightened up restrictions on adult content, “you cannot sell pornographic material or arrange sexual service(s) as a reward for your patrons. We define pornographic material as real people engaging in sexual acts such as masturbation or sexual intercourse on camera. You can’t use Patreon to raise funds in order to produce pornographic material such as maintaining a website, funding the production of movies, or providing a private webcam session.” in new TOS (see also Open Letter to Patreon, reporting on Patreon’s TOS changes), reports: Engadget, Motherboard, and a lot more linked at AboutLiara.com
- GiveForward – “Alexander received an email from GiveForward, saying her payment processor WePay had forced them to cancel her campaign, take down her page, and freeze her funds. The reason given? Alexander had “violated” WePay’s terms of service, which state that “you will not accept payments or use the Service in connection with pornographic items”: (There was no reference to “pornographic items” on Eden’s (now-cached) GiveForward campaign page; instead, there’s a footnote saying that “Eden will be using these donations for living and medical expenses ONLY,” and that “no funds will be used to finance any sort of creative or business project.”)“ – firsthand account by Eden at xoJone, reported, Daily Dot
- Crowdtilt/Tilt: Funnily enough, Crowdtilt used to be one of the few sites that allowed, for example, a porn star to try and get help paying medical bills, but now “We’re now part of the Airbnb family, and our focus will be to incorporate our social payments experience into their product ecosystem. As such, we’re no longer accepting new campaigns and will soon be retiring the Tilt service. While you’ll no longer be able to create any new campaigns, we’ll be continuing to support active campaigns through June 4th and payouts through the Tilt.com platform until June 12, 2017.” so, looks like they’re AirBNB now (the let’s ban sex workers for life under any name even if they have no intention of working out of a rental “AirBNB”)
- OnlyFans – “You may not publish “obscene” content; you may not advertise contests; you are not allowed to promote escorting.” (source)
Self Promotion/Expression and Advertising
Sex workers are also at a disadvantage in their businesses when it comes to exposure and normal participation in marketplaces. They can’t use typical advertising services and often have trouble using social media – it’s also important to note that the social media issues keep sex workers from being able to participate fully in politics. This list leaves out many paper, direct mail, telemarketing, etc, advertising services – not because they don’t ban sexual products and labor (they do) but because many of them just don’t have as easy to link to TOS or reporting. We’ll try to expand it later if it seems useful.
Social Media Platforms – Banned
- Facebook – Many personal experiences reported, including Liara Roux. (Of course, they leave catfishing accounts with performers’ pictures up). Pictures of sex toys from sex toy review blogger removed and account suspended (source). “We already know they don’t like adult content but they seem to be really enforcing it and booting any adult pages.” (Source) (Kristen DiAngelo – banned for life)
- LinkedIn – This may seem funny to some, but it means that if someone is a sex worker, they either cannot mention it on their professional profile (delegitimizing sex workers as workers and not allowing them to be proud of their history) or they will be banned for mentioning it on their profile (delegitimizing sex workers.) Considering many sex workers have multiple careers, being a well known sex worker could lead to writing gigs, panel appearances, and so on – but only if they are very careful with how they word their LinkedIn. Reporting at Telegraph
- WordPress.com Blogs – More notes on this below, but while WordPress seems to allow text-only blogging “about” sex, they have periodically banned people for anything more than that.
- Blogger – “Starting March 23, 2015, you won’t be able to publicly share images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity on Blogger. Note: We’ll still allow nudity if the content offers a substantial public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.. . . If your existing blog does have sexually explicit or graphic nude images or video, your blog will be made private after March 23, 2015.“ (source) – reporting: ZDNet
Social Media Platforms – Isolated or Hidden, sporadically banned or suspended
- Twitter – Twitter is a major offender and one of the most harmful. Right now, hashtags and viral posts have immense power to shape the public dialog. But a variety of implementations and policies, including announced ones like “sensitive content” filters and un-announce ones like shadowbanning (making it even harder to find accounts for unknown and untold (to users) reasons.)“In a study that looked at tweets from 2014 to early 2015, over a quarter million tweets were found during the one year period in Turkey to have been censored via shadow banning. Twitter was also found, in 2015, to shadowban tweets containing leaked documents in the US. In January 2018, a Twitter spokesperson told Fox News, “Twitter does not shadowban accounts.”There is some controversy as to whether or not that statement by a Twitter’s spokesperson is technically correct.” – Wiki“When contacted by VICE for comment about alleged shadowbanning, though, Twitter claimed they do not shadowban accounts. But, they did describe how the visibility of content from accounts that have violated their terms of service can be affected. “ Visibility of content you say? Hmm, that kind of sounds like a shadowban.What this means in practice is that sex workers don’t show up in the feed for the vast majority of users. They don’t show in #MeToo. Their attempts to educate as responses to cruelly whorephobic joke hashtag #QuestionsForAProstitute also didn’t show up. Considering the toxicity of the twitter stream for any given search term, I’m not sure why keeping out sex workers, who fill their feeds with flowery emojis and complementing each other, is somehow making the site a nicer place.Personally it’s been a pain in the ass as press (and fans) describe searching for me and only finding fake accounts. Stormy Daniels described (and Boing Boing confirmed) searching for herself and only finding posts by Trump himself and vitriol directed at her. Here’s an example of my feed and the public feed when looking for posts about Backpage right after it went down:
- Tumblr – You can’t upload adult video files, even clips of yourself naked will be removed, though they allow you embedding and uploading gifs or pictures. Tags are restricted from search, blogs are hidden if they are marked as adult, even if an individual post was not on an adult topic or containing adult content. “In other words, if your blog has been flagged as Adult, nothing you post will ever appear on Tumblr’s public tag searches.“ This basically means, for example, if someone makes a #MeToo blog post, no one will see it under that tag or know to retweet it. Tags that MAY BE related to adult content are prohibited, even the tag #gay. Reporting – Daily Dot, sporadic stories of account removal
- Instagram – “You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content via the Service.” – has been enforced by banning accounts of people that are worksafe but include mentions of working in porn or other sorts of sex work (TOS)
- Snapchat – Despite being wildly popular for sex workers and their fans, snapchat does sporadically suspend sex workers.
- Vine – Allowed nudity at first, but no longer after it became a really popular platform (Wired )
- Twitch – “Sexually explicit content and activities, such as pornography, sexual acts, and sexual services, including solicitation and offers for such content, are prohibited. Broadcasting in areas where nudity or sexual activity may be taking place, even if such conduct or activity is not at the direction of the broadcaster or takes place in the background of the broadcast, is prohibited…. Sexually suggestive content is prohibited. … Attire intended to be sexually suggestive and nudity are prohibited.” … many more details in TOS, in practice people report being banned for even mentioning to their twitch audience that they are a sex worker.
We’re also self censoring to try and avoid removal (some instructions here on Tits and Sass).
Online Advertising Tools – Banned
- Facebook Ads – “Adult Products or Services: Ads must not promote the sale or use of adult products or services, except for ads for family planning and contraception. Ads for contraceptives must focus on the contraceptive features of the product, and not on sexual pleasure or sexual enhancement, and must be targeted to people 18 years or older; Adult Content: Ads must not contain adult content. This includes nudity, depictions of people in explicit or suggestive positions, or activities that are overly suggestive or sexually provocative.“ – Prohibited in TOS
- Google AdWords – No adult material in ads (not the biggest deal), but also “Content that may be interpreted as promoting a sexual act in exchange for compensation” which allows for a lot of things but at least they specify includes “cuddling sites”. Limitations on other things – in TOS
- Twitter Ads – “Twitter prohibits the promotion of adult or sexual products and services globally.” followed by a huge list of everything it “applies, but is not limited, to” which is business speak for it can mean whatever they say it means, no appeal. – in TOS
- Tumblr Ads – “Tumblr does not allow ads for sexual products or services. This includes but is not limited to: Pornography books, films, magazines, or websites, Sex toys, Libido increasers, Prostitution or escort services, Adult entertainment establishments or in-home exotic dancers, Intimate and erotic massage services, International marriage brokerage services (e.g., mail order bride services)” – in TOS
- Instagram Ads – Instagram actually is Facebook since 2012, and for advertising their policy links redirect to the same TOS above.
- Pinterest Ads – “We don’t allow ads for adult products and services, including toys, videos, publications, live shows, sexual enhancement products, sites that promote casual sex, international match-making or escort services. We do allow ads for family planning and contraception as long as the focus isn’t on improving sexual performance or pleasure.” (source)
- LinkedIn Ads – “LinkedIn does not allow advertising related to any of the following: .. Sexual or Adult Content .. Sexual or Adult Products or Services .. Even if legal in the applicable jurisdiction” with further examples in TOS
- Youtube Ads – “Advertising is not permitted for the promotion of any adult or pornographic content on YouTube. Advertisements containing adult or sexually explicit content are also prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to: Pornography, Nudity (including pixelated imagery), Sexual acts that are blurred, pixelated, or has stars and bars, whether real or implied, Fetish content, Sexual abuse, Exposed or minimally covered breasts, buttocks, or genitals, Sexually suggestive poses, Concentrated attention on particular body parts in a gratuitous manner… Adult toys and lubricants… Please note that YouTube does not allow this content regardless of whether or not the ad complies with government regulations on this kind of advertising. … What we consider as adult content in video ads: Whether breasts, buttocks or genitals (clothed or unclothed) are the focal point of the video, Whether the video context is sexually suggestive (e.g, subject is depicted in a pose that is intended to arouse the viewer), Whether the language used in the video is vulgar and/or lewd, Other factors include the camera angle and focus, and the clarity of the images in the video.“ – in TOS
- Yelp – Currently direct aid organizations like St. James Infirmary are allowed on yelp, but individual sex workers (unlike accountants) are not.
Content Creation, Organizing and Distribution
Sex workers are hard working creators of some of the most voraciously consumed content on the internet (and anywhere.) Porn is ubiquitous and insanely profitable – though because of discrimination with payment platforms much of that money goes to tube sites and giant megacompines that benefit from pirating of independent sex work and predatory contracts. With less discrimination, independent sex workers in porn could thrive. But for now, they have trouble even using the same tools others do to create media and share it.
Content Creation Tools
- Google Drive – Post-FOSTA, many reports of accounts being locked or files disappearing. Reporting by Motherboard. “Do not publish sexually explicit or pornographic images or videos…. Additionally, we do not allow content that drives traffic to commercial pornography.” in TOS – but several people have said their personal accounts were targeted.
- Microsoft OneDrive – As a microsoft service, it now will be moderated for sexual content.
- ZohoDocs – “Sexually Explicit Material – Sexually explicit materials are those materials that contain adult or mature content. We do not authorize users to publish or transmit sexually explicit material using Zoho Services.” – in TOS
Content Distribution Platforms
- Vimeo – Removes accounts with content “focused on sexual stimulation”, personal experience. (“I was very careful with my Vimeo to never post any content that was less tame than your average music video. Small amounts of nipples here and there, but I used Vimeo like any other artist. They shut down my paid account with no warning and when I complained and gave comparative examples, they said my content was “focused on sexual stimulation”. This was the most explicit video I ever posted there. “- Liara Roux) (Kristen DiAngelo)
- YouTube – No Nudity allowed (unless you’re a major label or hollywood studio). (“They absolutely do not support SWs. My video was flagged for removal and my account was completely suspended/banned: Looking at my video clearly it DOES NOT violate any policies. I am walking around a beach in a bikini! But the title and description [“NYC Ebony Escort – Chanel Carvalho – Exotic Black New York City Escort” ] was definitely an issue for them.” – Chanel Carvalho) (Kristen DiAngelo – banned for life)
- Google Play – Updated to TOS to ban explicit content such as “promotional images of sex toys” and “apps that support escort services.”
- Apple App Store – Apple says they remove “overly sexual” content, but it’s actually a lot worse. Since they don’t allow adult apps, it has a huge chilling impact on any company that wants their app in the store. It’s been speculated that Apple’s guidelines are behind Tumblr’s censorship, for example.
- Steam – This one is actually kind of a question mark, because some sexual games get banned, some don’t, some show back up – and their moderation of individuals is really opaque. Steam recently has had more items added to a “Sexual Content” tag, so it’s likely they are trending in a positive direction since you can now search directly for them.
Website / eCommerce Creation Tools
- WordPress.com – Specifically things hosted on WordPress.com and not instances of WordPress open sources software on people’s self hosted sites. There is a lot of confusion over this one. WordPress.com is a business venture by the company Automattic, which was started by a founder of the WordPress.org open source software project. You will not be prevented from making a site with WordPress software you have downloaded from WordPress.org or installed through your web hosts control panel.However, you may have your account shut down or content removed if you host your blog/site at WordPress.com, which says in its TOS: “There are limitations to the mature content permitted on our service. Please don’t: Post visual depictions of sexually explicit acts (such as, but not limited to, images, videos, and drawings) that can be considered pornographic; Post links or ads to adult-oriented affiliate networks, such as pornography site signups; Post links, text, or images promoting or advertising escort or erotic services;“ and has been known, thought firsthand accounts, to suspend adult industry workers using it for personal or promotional blogging.It’s not clear to the extent Automattic polices use of other services/plugins that you log into with a WordPress.com account (like JetPack), but we’d advise caution for WP users on allowing your images to be compressed by JetPack packaged plugins, for example.
- SquareSpace – Doesn’t allow “offensive, sexually explicit or obscene.” and while escorts have been able to have SFW sites up in the past, now many people are reporting their sites being taken down.
- Etsy – Content may be listed as “Mature” but “Pornography is prohibited on Etsy.” – in TOS
- Wix – Confirmed by a Canadian sex worker whose account got shut down, second on the record confirmation: “Heads up, Wix may shut down my site today. It is currently “under review” – so everyone who was totting bullshit about how this wouldn’t affect Canadian providers can officially go suck a fuck.” – Eda Blackwood
Section needs to be fleshed out, about which webhosts don’t allow adult comment.
- EscortDesign – This was an escort friendly website service (obviously) and they just disappeared around 4/6? Workers reporting sites missing (Source)
- MailChimp – Mailing list tool shuts down adult accounts (Just heard SpankChain said it shutdown their account?) “Please don’t use Mailchimp to send anything offensive, to promote anything illegal, or to harass anyone. … You may not send: Pornography/sexually explicit content; … Some industries have higher-than-average abuse complaints, which can jeopardize the deliverability of our entire system. … Nothing personal, but in order to maintain the highest delivery rates possible for all our customers, we can’t allow businesses that offer these types of services, products, or content:Escort and dating services;.. we may closely review, suspend, throttle, or disable accounts that exceed these rates and/or offer the following services, products, or content: Adult Entertainment/Novelty Items “ – in TOS, (Personal experience – Kristen DiAngelo)
- Active Campaign – “[I] was using it for newsletter and my account was suspended a couple days after SESTA was voted on” (Stella Jane). “You will not use ActiveCampaign’s Services to send anything offensive, to promote anything illegal … you may not send any messages or content that: Is unlawful … obscene, pornographic, indecent, lewd, suggestive … We do not allow you to use our Services to: Send messages regarding: … escort and dating services; … other products or content that is, in our sole judgement, objectionable or likely to upset recipients” – in TOS
- Skype – As a microsoft service, it now will be moderated for sexual content.
- Appear.in – No content that “displays or links to pornographic, sexually explicit or any other indecent material;” – in TOS
- Asana – While it may be fine to organize your porn business (not confirmed) the TOS implies you really shouldn’t upload any pornographic content directly – “is deceptive, fraudulent, illegal, obscene, pornographic (including child pornography, which, upon becoming aware of, we will remove and report to law enforcement, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited children), defamatory, libelous or threatening, constitutes hate speech, harassment, or stalking;” – in TOS)
Note: I know several chat tools don’t allow discussions on sexual topics, what are those?
There’s a fairly common take on sex work that goes “well, if there’s a camera in the room, it’s legal, ha ha”. Yeah, no. As AdultBizLaw informs: “Those are the only two states that have state Supreme Court cases that have held that the production of pornography is NOT prostitution and/or pandering and is rather a First Amendment free speech right. This is why the adult entertainment industry is a legal and recognized business within California.” and it gets trickier from there. I recommend reading the full article.
So, this is untested in a lot of places. I think the average American probably believes porn is legal, full stop. They probably don’t even see an existential issue with it. But our laws don’t actually reflect that. Which leaves sex workers, once again, under the constant threat of having their entire career pulled out from under them.
The Loss of Sex Work Friendly Resources
At Patrecon, Patreon’s convention, I talked to an investor who said that since the internet is decentralized, sex workers could just go elsewhere if their access to platforms is limited. Besides the fact that if this idea is applied across the board, it’s obvious it doesn’t make any sense (if every restaurant in NYC just decided to stop serving gay or black people, I’m pretty sure that would be looked upon badly by most NYC residents), it also completely ignores that the purpose of the attacks on sex work is to remove sex work from the internet entirely. Legislation like FOSTA/SESTA, while hurting sex workers on all platforms and increasing stigma, is also aimed squarely at the websites sex workers use for their business every day.
Supporters of this are not shy about their goals of removing porn and other sex work from the internet and society as a whole if they can. The reality for sex workers is that they live daily in fear of losing their livelihood and communities, regardless of their location on mainstream sites or on sites dedicated to sex work.
Websites – Sex work related services removed
- Craigslist – Shutdown erotic services section in 2009, adult services in 2010, all personals in 2018 (NPR)
- Reddit – TOS changes, asked mods to censor some subreddits, outright banned (most with no warning) subreddits include r/escorts, r/maleescorts, r/sugardaddy, r/hookers, r/sexworkerblogs
- YellowPages – Shut down adult boards
- Facebook Groups – While probably already against TOS, people have recently reported losing sex worker only discussion groups
- Backpage.com – While previously they’ve had sex work sections shut down, the entire site is now Seized by the FBI 4/6. Backpage is a huge focus for crusaders and (perhaps this is why) it was one of the most used, lowest cost, advertising venues for independent sex workers. There’s a ton to talk about here and we’ve placed it in the essay sections below.
Sex Work Advertising Websites – Online resources taken down or lost
- MyRedBook – Lost in 2014 and mourned often on the West Coast. See “The Rise and Fall of RedBook, the Site That Sex Workers Couldn’t Live Without” at Wired.
- RentBoy.com – Taken down and CEO convicted. “Judge said although company was illegal, “there is no question it did a lot of good.” As Mathew Rodriguez observed at the time “Jeffrey Hurant build a site that made sex work safe and it landed him in prison.” See also, How the Feds Took Down Rentboy.com at Vice. I remember being so shaken by this the first time and I’m honestly tearing up thinking about how terrible this was. I included more on this below. I feel like I should also note that this entire site and community was men for men – not sure how that fits into the trafficked women and children narrative used to justify the efforts to attack it.
- CityVibe – Seems to now be down, no official statement?
- Cracker – “Essentially a copy of Backpage. In Australia your Backpage advert cross posts to cracker and vice versa. Both are now gone in Asia and Oz.” – Amber Ashton
- The Erotic Review Ad Boards – Closed right after FOSTA/SESTA passing then…
- The Erotic Review / TER – Closed ALL US ACCESS as of 4/6 (source), further reporting at Ars Technica
- NightShift – Closed
- Hung Angels – Forums removed
- YourDominatrix – Shut down US ads
- MyFreeCams – “CHANGE in TOS: explicit ban on any transaction such as offering to meet a site member for tokens.” (source)
- TouchByVenus.com – Closed
- P411 – Canadians are now barred from advertising in the states. Update, 4/7 – Not accepting new applications from USA providers (source)
- Eccie – Seems to be down, 4/7 (source)
- MyScarlettBook – Closed
- ProvidingSupport – Closed
- SouthernGFE.com – “As it stands today, SouthernGFE will more than likely shut down at some point in April or June.” They state it is NOT due to the bill. (?) (Read more here, it’s a weird one and by weird I mean this dude calling people “skank whores”)
- OffBeatr – Adult friendly crowdfunding site forced to close after being unable to shoulder payment processing while being shunned by the mainstream banks – (sources 1, 2)
- Globill – Payment processor that shutdown in 2003, losing clients large amounts of money
- RedPass – A sex work friendly payment processor, now also out of business
- Men4RentNow – Closed March 2018
- BarebackRT-BBRTS – Quote their email, 4/6: “ You are receiving this message because your Account on BarebackRT (BBRTS) has been identified as being an ESCORT/MASSAGE THERAPIST or some other type of “PRO” Account. It is being sent to your account INTERNALLY and to the email address on file with your account. Due to changes in US Federal Law, PRO Accounts can no longer exist on BBRTS in any form. Your account is being closed to get YOU and US into compliance with the US Federal Law and eliminate legal exposure to YOU and US that may be caused by the changes the new law creates.”
Sex Work Sites – TOS Changes
- My Free Cams – “Changed their policies to ban any talk about transactions of any kind.” (source), no longer allowed to do meet ups (regardless of any sexual activity – many cam workers used to offer public hangouts, meet and greets, or dinner dates – all completely out of the gray area, 100% legal activity.) or raffles that include meet ups as prizes. ) (Riley Scarlett)
- HungAngels – A trans centric site, it was not only a place for sex work but also an important community resource, but now they are removing forums
- Insex – A BDSM site that was taken down in 2005 under pressure from the gov and a new “anti-obscenity” initiative by the FBI. (source)
I know there are other porn sites that have crumbled under pressure (and it would also be interesting to talk more about all the ones bought by MindGeek, but that may be a little off topic.) There’s also a long history of people fighting against printed and video porn. You should actually read that article, The War on Porn is Back, because it does all tie in very much with the ongoing narrative against sex work. Here’s another article, at Scientific American, that’s address some of the anti-porn narratives directly with studies showing there are usually “no negative effects and it may even deter sexual violence”.
This document is, honestly, a little more focused on full service in person sex workers – it’s the opinion of this author that a lot of the stigma applied to other sorts of sex work is tied into the criminalization and extreme stigma directed at full service sex workers. You can see this in the terms used to refer derogatorily to cam girls, porn stars, etc. Often it’s “whore.”
But the war on porn is real, and it’s the same war on the rest of sex work.
Advertising / Safety Websites Impacted
- VerifyHim – Community discussion boards removed, peer safety notes lessened or removed, other changes in the works. VerifyHim is a miracle site for sex workers, a pure safety resource – no clients allowed – that allowed quick and comprehensive screening based on different inputs (like a client’s number, name, nickname, email, and so on). Really comprehensive. Like, down to people’s address history, who has owned the phone number in the past, arrest records, memberships on sites – from Facebook to The Erotic Review – and most importantly blacklist results from several databases in addition to VerifyHim’s own and the ability to directly contact references anonymously, who could decide to get back to you directly. I can say with 100% certainty both that no trafficking has ever happened on VerifyHim and that losing it or lessening its features will result in violence and death.
- MyRedBook Bad Date Lists – When MyRedBook went down, it took its safety resources and community forums with it.
Personal Life Services
Many of the previous work related items intersect with people’s personal services – like being banned from skype or losing your social media. But other platforms that people take for granted just to live a happy and healthy life are also denied to sex workers. Like online dating or renting an AirBnB for your vacation. There’s no reason sex workers shouldn’t be able to enjoy contemporary niceties, but many are scared to announce their job (no matter the legality of their specific sort of work) because they risk losing access to basic sites.
Some sex workers do use dating sites to pick up work (and in the author’s opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that) but it’s worth noting that many sex workers are removed for such sites simply for stating their profession. Shouldn’t it be an option for stigmatized people to let others who might want to date them know their job? Dating outside the industry as a sex worker can be hard enough as it is.
- Pounced.org – CLOSED From Pounced: “we were able to offer pounced.org as a free service to the community because the liability to use was well managed and we could manage our cost effectively… in many ways this bill targets small sites like ours directly, it favors organizations with the resources to invest in filtering technology, paid staff and legal support staff.” – Tweet – Reporting: Vice, Lawyers and Liquor
- OkCupid – From personal anecdotes, will add more later.
- Tinder – From personal anecdotes, will add more later.
- FetLife – NO EXCHANGING OF SEX ACTS GOODS OR SERVICES – NO ESCORTING – NO CONSENSUAL BLACKMAIL OR FINANCIAL DOMINATION – Subject to change. (source)
Sugar Dating Sites
- MissTravel.com – “They’re all active, I was adding them because they discriminate. I believe they’re all owned by same company [Ed note – unconfirmed], myself and several escorts I know have been deleted and banned from site for being a sex worker. even if not using the site as a “performer” even with your legal name they don’t allow you to be on sites. It’s in their rules and when they delete you they’re not shy about telling you it’s because you’re a sex worker. (lol sugaring IS sex work)” – Jocelyn Mae, “This happened with me also on S.A. 100% correct” – Cazzy Kush
Several people have reached out to me wanting to mention in this document that they’ve experienced discrimination at hotels. It’s a very valid note. It’s hard to know exactly what to “list” at the moment, but it’s generally understood that while hotels are happy to let civilian (non-sex) workers meet and greet in their suites (and have whatever crazy civilian sex they have at those things), they really don’t want to be known as having sex workers working there.
Tales of being kicked out, asked to leave, or having to be extra careful around hotel workers are very commonplace. Of course, many hotel laborers themselves (it should be said) are happy to turn a blind eye and even help with small acts of kindness like leaving extra towels when they realize what you’re up to.
One of the worst things about hotel discrimination is that it doesn’t really just hit active workers. People have been arrested for even appearing to be sex workers. This hits transgender women and women of color – and transgender women of color – the hardest.
As the Guardian reports – “A transgender woman who was jailed for eight days after hotel staff called the police to report “two men” engaging in prostitution, has settled her lawsuit against the hotel… Meagan Taylor, 22, and her friend, both black transgender women, spent the night at the Drury Inn in West Des Moines, Iowa. The pair had been on their way to Kansas City to attend a funeral. But Taylor wound up getting arrested and spending eight days in a county jail after being found in possession of her hormone drugs without a copy of her prescription, a charge that was later dropped.”
As well of a terrifying example of the prevalence of harmful ideas about trans people, it’s also an all too uncommon side effects of the criminalization of full service sex work. Even if the police cannot prove anything (or indeed if anything even happened) they are happy to add whatever kind of charges they can add and generally make life hell for people suspected of being sex workers. Taylor was able to bring a case against the hotel, but many people are forced to accept this kind of stigma and abuse with little recourse.
Other Applications or Services
- AirBnB – Has been known to close accounts (permanently) of anyone it finds out to be a sex worker, regardless of their reason for wanting to rent an AirBNB. Reporting – Broadly
- Uber – Consensual sex workers have reported being turned in after taking an Uber. Uber defends this as “anti-trafficking” policy, and redirects to their press releases lauding themselves for being so good about it. Seems unlikely this has helped many trafficking victims, because, well, arrest doesn’t really help anyone.
Lost Safety Resources and Government Oppression
It’s not hyperbolic to say that sex workers are under attack. They are literally under extreme risk of harm and society continues to force them into it. For an example, Rape and sexual assault reports increased two-fold after Scotland introduced laws criminalizing solicitation in 2007. Legislation like FOSTA/SESTA encourages censoring of websites and has a chilling effect on direct outreach. Criminalization of aspects of sex work enhances stigma, makes life more dangerous, and puts the most vulnerable members of the community in direct contact with police, who are known to rape, steal from, and/or arrest workers instead of helping them deal with other violence.
Sex workers don’t get the same kind of respect for their work that would allow them to solve business disputes through the courts. They don’t have access to basic government resources. Sex workers, regardless of legality, also have trouble traveling as they are frequently harassed at borders.