As if providers don't have enough to worry about in this time of FOSTA/SESTA, now there's one more threat to their livelihood: a potential banking freeze.
We've spoken at length before about how there are no 2020 presidential candidates who support sex workers, but here's a new spin: there are now candidates who are not satisfied with simply making the sex industry illegal--they are punching service providers in the pocketbook.
The kicker for a gray area industry is that it still relies on the mainstays of an economic system; in order to provide for oneself, have insurance, buy a house or car, etc, one must be able to participate in banking, hold accounts, and build credit. Many retirement funds, IRAs, and investing portfolios rely on having access to a bank account from which you can transfer money, and into which you can deposit money.
As such, navigating the systemic world of institutions for an industry that is both constantly under attack and also without financial consistency (staples such as direct deposit, paychecks, etc) is tricky, to say the least. In a BTRtoday article, Taia Handlin tackles some of the intricacies of banking as a sex worker:
"In addition to banks, credit unions and listing pages like Craigslist, sex workers have reported being kicked off services like Venmo, PayPal, and GoFundMe. This isn’t new—GoFundMe, for example, has cancelled sex worker medical fundraisers at least as far back as 2015. Now, however, more and more institutions are racing to eliminate any potential liability on their part, as they could be penalized for enabling prostitution under FOSTA."
That sex workers have been excluded from online payment platforms for years now is not exactly new, however there is a bill which passed the House in April of 2018, and which was backed by Elizabeth Warren, that would take those freeze-outs to a whole new level. According to the brief, "The legislation would
- Require the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) reports to include a nation-by-nation analysis of whether each foreign country has a mechanism to prevent financial transactions from people accused or suspected of human trafficking.
- Add the Secretary of the Treasury to the list of top government officials on the President’s Interagency Task Force To Monitor and Combat Trafficking, to add more of a financial oversight element.
- Direct the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence to include in its responsibilities “combating illicit financing relating to severe forms of trafficking in persons.”
This bill isn't new – in fact, this is something Elizabeth Warren got really fired up about in 2018, and the majority of the hubbabaloo around it has pretty much stayed in the shadow period of last year. However, as she ramps up her political platform for a 2020 presidential run, she has once again taken up the mantel to punch sex workers in the pocketbook– and she's in good company.
Those who support the bill claim that bringing banking and other financial institutions into the ring means that supporters of trafficking (because yet again consensual sex work is being swept under the rug with this leviathan cause) would be forced out of the very systems they need in order to function under capitalism. In effect, if traffickers cannot access their finances, nor gain credit or fiscal benefits given through banking institutions, they'll be forced to quit their trade.
“Human trafficking has devastated the lives of tens of millions of victims around the world, including here in the United States… This form of modern-day slavery makes criminal gangs billions each year,” House lead sponsor Royce said in a press release.
The bill is, to date, the only piece of legislation where Elizabeth Warren is in cahoots with Marco Rubio. From Elizabeth Warren herself: "“This bill is about bringing together experts to discuss ways we can stop the forced labor and sexual exploitation of 25 million innocent children and adults. It targets the organized criminals who use our banking system to prop up this modern slavery.”
The reasons this bill is a disastrous one for sex workers are innumerable, but they aren't far from the same league as FOSTA/SESTA at all:
"Access to banking services is a central component of economic empowerment to improve sex workers’ living and work conditions, reduce their vulnerability to violence, and enable them to manage and plan their finances and future,” the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) writes in a position paper. “Globally, stigma, criminalization, and discrimination create barriers to sex workers’ access to financial services. The End Banking for Human Traffickers Act is likely to compound these barriers and also further impede sex workers’ access to internet services.”
The way this has manifested outside of banking and credit institutions is also extremely problematic; sex workers now stand to have their cards or accounts frozen if there are charges from advertising platforms that come across the desks of their banks. If workers are unable to buy ad space then they are unable to make money, at least on internet platforms that allow they to have some semblance of anonymity that helps to keep them safe. For workers who are not already on the street, the inability to use advertising platforms online could force them out into the world.
The domino effect is devastating. From The Guardian: "When people who sell sex are kicked off online platforms where we advertise and communicate, we lose a crucial tool that allows us to screen potential clients. When sites remove our ads, sex workers are pushed into working on the street, which is often more dangerous (especially for those who are new to it) and more precarious – and by increasing sex workers’ visibility, leaves them more vulnerable to arrest. People reach out to third parties: if you can no longer find clients by putting up an ad, you might seek out a manager or associate who can find you clients. Taking away our ability to advertise – while ostensibly aimed at tackling exploitation – often, paradoxically, pushes sex workers into exploitative relationships."
So, how CAN providers keep their bank accounts safe? Slixa, at present, is one of the only online platforms that takes credit cards with a neutral, un-flagged business name. Slixa also accepts less-common forms of payment for advertisement space, such as bitcoin, and store branded gift cards.
For those who don't feel one hundred percent open to the world of bitcoin, Slixa also accepts payments run through Privacy.com, which is sort of like a VPN for money (and soon, hopefully everyone will be using it). Privacy.com allows providers to pay with credit cards and still keep their info safe and secure, which allows there to be a degree of separation between the worker and their banking institution– meaning that one charge from an advertising platform doesn't necessarily mean a complete freeze-out.
According to reviews of Privacy, "Privacy.com takes the virtual card idea to a new level in two ways:
- Privacy allows more customization in the virtual account number with options to close, edit, or pause each virtual card. You can even customize how the charge shows up on your bank statement, with a few options to choose from.
- You can use any name, address, and phone number with your Privacy virtual card. This can be useful in cases where you don’t want to give out your address, and it might be helpful for some international purchases since you can even use a foreign address. Contrast this with Citi or BofA’s system which probably tie to your name and billing address."
So, their service allows providers to continue buying advertising space in a private, low-risk way, which could ultimately end up saving lives.
As the war on sex workers intensifies, it is likely that we'll see a rise in platforms that offer protection and accept non-traditional payment options such as Slixa. Hard times call for creative solutions, like Privacy, and the onslaught of start-up tech companies can potentially offer respite to those whose livelihoods are being increasingly threatened.