Emily Pennington // SpankChain
In the United States, it’s generally considered common knowledge that businesses, both public and private, aren’t allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, race, or national origin, thanks to the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. But did you know that there is currently no law in place stating that businesses can’t discriminate against people based on their occupation? Even when that occupation is recognized as fully legal?
In the latest iteration of the culture war on porn and sex workers, banks have been dropping legal filmmakers, website owners, and OnlyFans performers left and right, claiming that they are too “high risk” to do business with. This fear is thought to be tied up in vague legalese surrounding money laundering and anti-human trafficking laws, but advocates legislating on behalf of sex workers believe the stigma goes much deeper than that.
“What we saw with the anti-porn groups in the late 80s and early 90s was they were able to go after adult businesses and basically drag them into court, run up their costs, and put them out of business that way… so it was like death by 1000 cuts. Those people are still in charge of the anti-porn organizations, and what they’ve seen is that banking is a way they can do that in the era of the internet,” says Mike Stabile, Director of Public Affairs for the Free Speech Coalition (FSC). “They’re putting public pressure on credit cards as a way of censoring adult businesses. We’re looking to stop that.”
So far, nine banking fairness bills, across states like Maine, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania, have been introduced to Congress in 2023, but, even though many of them have bi-partisan support, they haven’t been getting as much traction as the FSC would like. “We’re an interesting case study, because when we go to these conservative legislators, they say, ‘We get it entirely. This is what we’ve been dealing with; can you bring the left on board with some of this?’ And the left understands us in the terms of big banks discriminating against some of the most marginalized people on the planet and acting as moral sensors and moral arbiters,” says Stabile.
It’s no secret that Congress (especially in this decade) has been horrifically slow at passing legislation that could help protect marginalized communities, and the longer they wait on banking discrimination, the more people doing legal work within the adult industry suffer.
Perhaps nobody knows this better than performer and activist, Allie Eve Knox, who explains how even traditional cryptocurrency platforms are not as free from censorship as their techy, evangelists might have you believe. “In 2015, I was tweeting about using crypto and taking it as a sex worker, and these producers from the show Dark Net on Showtime wrote to me and said, ‘Hey, would you like to do an episode about using crypto for sex work?’ And I was like, ‘Hell yeah,’” recalls Knox. “They came to Texas and filmed me in
2015, and I showed them how I could put my QR code up to the camera in a cam room and someone could just scan it and send me money that way. When the episode premiered in 2016, the next day Coinbase shut my account down.”
Thankfully, companies are starting to pop up to deal with this issue head-on. Up until this point, a lot of the middlemen who have surfaced to “aid” adult industry professionals in securing reliable payment methods charge exorbitant fees that hardly make their services worth it. SpankChain, on the other hand, works hand-in-hand with the FSC to legislate for greater financial freedom and brings no-nonsense, blockchain-based payment solutions to
performers and workers in need.
“They were one of the only companies that was saying, ‘We want to build for sex workers. We want to add this to the community…’ SpankChain was for sex workers, by sex workers. That was really appealing to me,” says Knox, who also works as an advisor for SpankChain.
According to Knox, the ties between SpankChain and Free Speech Coalition run deep, and they recently sponsored twenty models to have year-long memberships to help get the word out about FSC’s big, legislative actions and recent wins. “We’re trying to either attach ourselves to a bill or write our own to say that there will be no financial discrimination against any legal business. So, that would be for us, or guns, or oil, or other industries that
also have experienced this,” explains Knox.
One strategy the FSC might use to go about this is by following Germany’s model. “Germany has a right to bank, the same way that there’s a right to health care, so that even if you get turned down by a bank, there is one bank that will take you,” says Stabile.
In May, 2023, the Free Speech Coalition met with Congress to discuss banking discrimination. “They understand that we are legal, legitimate businesses and deserve the same rights as other industries,” says Executive Director Alison Boden. One of the hopes is that, with the rise of OnlyFans as a more mainstream network that adult content creators could use during the Covid-19 pandemic, legislators will finally listen.
In the meantime, the FSC just put out a first-of-its-kind report on financial discrimination within the adult industry. Over 600 people responded to the survey regarding banking fairness, and the organization found that nearly 67% of people in the adult industry have lost a bank account or a financial tool. They also found that almost 40% of them had an account closed in the last year.
It’s clear that this kind of discrimination is rampant, and firm action needs to be taken in Congress as soon as possible to protect the rights of working class Americans.