OnlyFans decides to stand by sex workers but uncertainty remains

Content subscription service OnlyFans has u-turned on a controversial decision to ban sexually explicit content from its site starting on October 1, a proposal that was met with intense criticism from performers, advocates and allies.

Sex workers who rely on the site for their livelihoods raised urgent concerns over being forced into more dangerous street-based sex work and at greater risk of trafficking and exploitation as a result of seeing their incomes significantly cut if their content is banned from OnlyFans.

OnlyFans’ reversal less than a week after announcing its plan to ban sexually explicit content is testament to the effective advocacy of sex workers and allies. But for many, the damage is already done.

Phoenix Calida, a content creator on the platform and advocate with Sex Workers Outreach Project USA, said “I want to be optimistic, but I’m very skeptical. It seems as though OF changed without consulting sex workers, and I’ve not seen anything that indicates that they understand why that’s a problem.”

Associated Press reports:

“Not having the online outlet is going to hinder and harm a lot of people. Online is much safer, particularly for trans and gender nonconforming folks,” said LaLa Zannell, the ACLU’s trans justice campaign manager who leads the rights group’s effort to decriminalize sex work.

The online porn industry is changing amid concerns about sex trafficking and the exploitation of minors. Two 2018 laws, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, were meant to stop sex trafficking online, and led some spaces to shut down. But many sex workers say these changes have also made their jobs more dangerous.

Following the onset of COVID-19, sex workers had turned to OnlyFans as a platform where they could continue safely working. The platform had seen a 75% increase in new creators in May 2020. Sex workers are largely credited with the significant success of the content subscription platform that has 2 million creators earning $5 billion collectively.

Lydia Caradonna, sex worker and sex workers’ rights activist told Rolling Stone:

“This is just another example in a long, long line of websites building their entire brands on our labor, our bodies, and our influence, and then turning their backs on us as soon as it might benefit them financially.”

While, just like any other sector, online platforms should take steps to help prevent trafficking, certain groups are calling for a complete shutdown of the porn industry. Freedom United does not believe this is the answer to effectively tackling trafficking and will only succeed in placing workers in the industry in increasingly precarious situations that will exacerbate the risk of exploitation.

Take a deep dive into how sex workers’ rights and building resilience to trafficking interlink in our resource hub.

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