Sex work is work. It is the heart and soul of the porn industry, which pioneered ecommerce into the driving economic force it is today. Yet sex workers are routinely underserved by online payment and merchant services.
Sex workers drive a massive amount of traffic to social media platforms seeking their content, yet they face discrimination when monetizing that traffic. Most peer-to-peer (P2P) payment processors expressly prohibit transactions with a sexy context, as do crowd funding sites like GoFundMe and Patreon, even when sex workers use them off-duty for personal needs.
What if I told you there is a way to process your payments — for salacious content, panties, tributes, whatever — where you’re not vulnerable to the whims of obscenity complaints and restrictive terms of service clauses? I’ll tell you how, but first, let’s talk about what’s at stake.
#THOTAUDIT and the Incel Insurgency
Models have always had to guard their social media accounts against the odd follower that reports posts as obscene. Recently however, that behavior has escalated into an organized troll campaign originating from the “incel” community. Incels — “involuntary celibates” — are an online community that ranges from guys commiserating about dating troubles to full-on misogynists and worse. The extreme end of the incel spectrum engages in trolling, doxxing and making terrorist threats aimed at sex workers.
Some of these incel communities have been tied to acts of mass violence or have otherwise encouraged such acts. As a result, they’re getting kicked off social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit. These communities are now retaliating against the sex industry, culminating in a hashtag campaign called #THOTAUDIT.
The #THOTAUDIT strategy was to report sex workers with premium Snapchats, Patreons etc. to the IRS in hopes those individuals will get audited for tax evasion. It was nothing more than a scurrilous scare tactic since a) you can’t just report complete strangers to the IRS and b) sex workers pay their taxes like everyone else.
However, these extremist groups have now evolved #THOTAUDIT into something more nefarious. They are reporting accounts to payment processors like Paypal/Venmo, Stripe, Square and other P2P processors whose terms discriminate against sex work. Wired.com has reported that some sex workers are seeing their accounts frozen and their balances seized as a result.
A Moment of Truth
The extent of #THOTAUDIT is difficult to quantify. However, regardless of its efficacy, #THOTAUDIT has exposed how important it is for sex workers to divest from discriminatory processors. Fortunately, there is a way for them to do just that.
Sex workers are merchants. Merchants in the adult space are considered “high-risk”. It doesn’t mean banks won’t serve us, it only means we work through certain banks and merchant services, and not others. While P2P processors seem like a convenient solution to monetize your social media, they can and will freeze your account indefinitely for violating their terms of service. You’re going to need your own merchant account.
If you’re making even a modest income online, you’ll need to open a business bank account. How much is modest? Consider the maximum amount you’re allowed to write off as gift income: $15,000. If you make more than that, you should absolutely open a business account with your bank. Here’s how you do that:
- You — yes YOU — can have a business bank account. Selling content is affiliate marketing. Selling sex toys is retail. Panties are bespoke memorabilia. All of it is legal, despite the stigma. Follow the rules, get licensed as a business, and banks will take you on as a client; they’re banks, not churches.
- You’ll need a secure payment gateway. Gateways are the forms where all online purchases begin. They’re maintained by specialized providers to securely handle the sensitive data submitted in a transaction, such as credit card number, billing address, name on card etc. Instead of referring customers to your Paypal, you’ll send them to your own gateway.
- You’ll also need a payment processor. Payment processors are the entities that transmit payment gateway data to the banks. When a transaction is initiated through a payment gateway, the payment processor relays that information to the customer’s bank for authorization.
- Be prepared against fraud and chargebacks. Adult is considered high-risk because it is frequently targeted by fraud, and is prone to chargebacks. Fraud and chargebacks can cost you if they’re not properly managed.
These are general guidelines, of course. Finding the right merchant services for your particular business requires a bit of homework, but they are out there. My company, ChargebackHelp, specializes in chargeback management for high-risk merchants just like you. We refer our clients to the merchant services they need. We also provide a payment gateway called Billapay that is designed for high-risk to protect against fraud. You can find helpful articles, resources, and solutions for merchants like you on our site ChargebackHelp.com.
Sex work stigma is harmful in many ways. It deceives us into thinking sex workers have to sneak around processors to conduct business online. But the truth is, there is no reason why you should depend on payment processors that discriminate against sex work, when there is a host of companies and financial institutions that cater to businesses like yours.