Technology has opened up a world of opportunity for people struggling in a downtrodden economy. Online crowdfunding gives people freedom to fund projects they care about or simply pay their rent. But sex workers are increasingly being shut out from the opportunity.
Just ask sex worker Eden Alexander. After suffering a near-fatal reaction to a common prescription drug, she found herself bedridden and unable to work. She started an online crowdfunding campaign on the charity site GiveForward to raise money for healthcare, a home care nurse, a dog walker, and other living expenses.
She raised more than $1,000 – until she received an email from GiveForward saying her fundraiser had been cancelled because it violated WePay’s terms of service, which prohibits receiving funds “in connection with pornographic items.” Screenshot of email can be found here, and a cached version of Eden’s fundraiser can be found here. It outlines Eden’s horrific and heartbreaking account of an allergic reaction to a common Rx, which ultimately propelled her into Myxedema Coma, a life-threatening complication of hypothyroidism.
Eden almost died. The Internet swooped in to offer a helping hand, but due to WePay’s discriminatory policies, she’s been plunged even further into personal turmoil.
This type of paternalism isn’t a new occurrence in the world of payment processing. Both WePay and PayPal have repeatedly strong-armed sites that process payments through their platforms when they discover campaign creators are connected to the porn/adult entertainment industry.
Writer and sex worker Kitty Stryker raised money through crowdfunding site Patreon so she could attend the 2014 Feminist Porn Conference in Toronto. PayPal subsequently threatened to freeze all creator pages unless Patreon blocked pages like Kitty Stryker’s from being funded.
Kitty Stryker also writes about porn performer Maggie Mayhem, who tried to raise money to go to Haiti and do relief work through PayPal. Again, this fundraiser had nothing to do with porn — but her account was shut down regardless, leaving us to presume that because Maggie Mayhem herself is a porn performer, PayPal does not welcome her to use crowdfunding for any aspect of her life.
And there’s more — earlier this year, Bay Area-based alternative/queer porn star Andre Shakti attempted to raise funds to attend the same feminist porn event using Fundly. WePay, the site’s payment processor, shut down her account because it was “adult.” This led Sex Workers Outreach Project to urge Fundly to stop using WePay and live up to its tagline, “crowdfunding for all.”
WePay does not define how strong the “connection” to “obscene or pornographic items” must be, as detailed in its Terms of Service. Perhaps it should, because first and foremost, Eden was not asking for money to create porn. She was raising money to get herself healthy again, take care of her dogs, and pay her living expenses while unable to work. Her fundraiser was shut down due to her profession, plain and simple.
The whole thing is also reminiscent of a related case that made headlines recently — Chase Bank shutting down hundreds of porn stars’ accounts without reason.
This begs lots of questions, many related to the misogyny and sex negativity pervasive in our culture. It also leaves me wondering — what can consumers do when companies systematically shut people out from their services just because they’re involved in porn or sex work?
Sure, companies reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speak truth to their power and kick up a fuss when those practices are inherently flawed and discriminatory, particularly toward a group of people who already find their profession stigmatized and viewed as less valuable than other types of work.
The idea for WePay was borne when the founder wanted to raise money for his brother’s bachelor party, which included a night at a club. In recent years, pages like Everyday Whorephobia have popped up to raise awareness of the ways sex workers are pushed to the margins of society. WePay only reinforces whorephobia when it discriminates this way.
Let’s also keep in mind that it’s not in any company’s favor to discriminate — all it does it hurt business. Myself and the droves of people who expressed outrage over WePay’s treatment of Eden on Twitter will certainly refuse to use platforms that process payments with these sites and encourage others to do so as well.
When companies behave this way, as many people as possible need to know about it. I started a Care2 petition demanding WePay stop discriminating against people who work in the sex and adult entertainment industries. Please sign the petition, tweet at, or otherwise contact WePay to send a message that puritanical, antiquated views on sex work are not business-friendly and only anger consumers.
Policing of this nature has no place in the world of crowdfunding, in which equality of opportunity should be inherent. Unfortunately for us consumers, WePay has illustrated its paternalism holds supreme.
UPDATE 5:41 PM: WePay addressed this issue shortly after I wrote this post — albeit with a weak excuse. Here is WePay’s statement.
CEO Bill Clerico says Eden’s campaign was shut down because she retweeted a post from a friend offering adult pictures to donors (since when do RTs = endorsements?)
He also tweeted that WePay is “required to monitor all customer websites and social media. Bc we have to, not bc we want to” (Thought Police/mass surveillance, much?) and its policies are informed by threat of fines from Visa/MasterCard for “selling adult content.” The whole thing is a big PR mess, and you can browse Twitter for more reactions/questions aimed his way. You can also donate to Eden’s new fund on CrowdTilt.